Tomato soup and grilled cheese is the perfect lunch to cheer up a rainy, cold day. I usually make tomato soup from scratch because I find canned soup rather bland and metallic tasting. However, when I was preparing the bolognese sauce for my post last week, I bought a box of Pacific Natural Foods tomato soup and it looked so much better than canned. It had a bright, tomatoey red color and smelled like fresh tomatoes. This made me wonder if I had been wasting time simmering homemade soup for hours when boxed tomato soup looked and smelled so appetizing. But could the boxed variety compare favorably to a homemade tomato soup made from scratch? On a very wet, cold fall day, I made a large pot of homemade tomato soup, lots of grilled cheese sandwiches, and heated up a box of Pacific Foods tomato soup. We had three testers for this comparison and the results were surprisingly ambiguous. But first, my recipe for homemade Creamy Tomato Soup:
Creamy Tomato Soup
This recipe makes a huge amount of soup. I like to make the full recipe and freeze the leftovers for later, but it also turns out very well if the recipe is halved.
1 Tablespoon olive oil
2 Tablespoons butter
1 onion, finely chopped
2 large cans (1 lb. each) whole tomatoes
1 garlic clove, roughly chopped
3 cups vegetable broth (I like Swanson’s boxed vegetable broth)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 Tablespoons tomato paste
Several fresh basil leaves (optional)
2/3 cup heavy cream
1. Heat the butter and oil over medium heat, in a dutch oven or large pot, until the butter melts. Add the onion and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. While the onion cooks, use kitchen shears to roughly chop the whole tomatoes in their cans.
2. Once onions are softened, add the chopped whole tomatoes, garlic, broth, salt, and tomato paste to the pan and stir to combine. Turn the heat down to low, cover the pot, and simmer for 45 minutes to an hour or until the tomatoes are infused with the other flavors.
3. Working in batches (it usually takes me three batches), blend the tomato soup in a blender or food processor until it is smooth. If using, add the basil leaves to the blender with the last batch. Return the blended soup to the pot and whisk in the cream. Heat until just warm, not boiling, and add salt to taste. Serve warm and garnish with extra basil leaves, if desired.
The homemade soup and boxed soup were much different in both flavor and texture. The homemade soup had a very strong tomato flavor but was also more complex as the flavor of onion, garlic and basil also came through. There were also small pieces of tomato still present in the homemade soup because it’s almost impossible to get a completely smooth texture using a blender of food processor at home. The pieces of tomato weren’t unpleasant, but they definitely did not make for a super-smooth tomato soup like the soup from a box. While the boxed soup had a nice, smooth texture, it did not have the fresh, tomato flavor of homemade and was a bit too sweet for my taste. However, as one tester pointed out, the smooth texture of boxed soup did lend itself better to dipping grilled cheese sandwiches. The chunkier homemade soup did not cling to the sandwiches very well at all.
There was not a clear winner in the taste category, but was one soup cheaper than the other? Not by much. For 4 cups of soup, the homemade soup cost $3.50 while the boxed was only slightly cheaper at $2.69. Of course, the boxed soup wins hands down in the convenience category as it takes only a few minutes to heat up and only dirties one pan. Homemade soup, on the other hand, requires at least an hour and a half to prepare and dirties numerous pots and utensils.
Bottom Line: Homemade tomato soup does have a fresh, full tomato flavor and a depth of flavor that boxed soup can’t touch. However, it is a little more expensive than boxed soup and requires a lot more effort to prepare. Boxed soup is better if you prefer a very smooth textured tomato soup or if you are looking for a quick, inexpensive lunch. Either homemade or boxed tomato soup makes a tasty accompaniment to grilled cheese sandwiches on a blustery day!