You know those nights when you just have an awesome time? Where the wine is unbelievably good and flows freely, where the food is simple but tasty and leaves you free to talk instead of just ooh and aah over it, where the company is comfortable and warm?
Saturday night was one of those nights for me.
My friends Caroline, Brian and Ellie came over for dinner, and we spent a most excellent evening together. Ellie's just started med school in Chicago, Caroline and Brian have just gotten engaged, and I'm starting a new role at work in January, so we had oodles to celebrate.
Accordingly, we drank a bottle of Schramsberg and a bottle of Ayala (an unbelievably good 1999 brut millésimé from my champagne soulmate, Louisa), some delicious homemade eggnog (courtesy of Brian, and accompanied by fried chickpeas with cilantro), and a gorgeous bottle of Hall Cabernet Sauvignon (which Caroline, far more discerning than I, pronounced too young, but I thoroughly enjoyed).
The food was all comfort, all the time: roasted tomato soup, gougères, macaroni and cheese with bacon and mushrooms, and sticky toffee puddings. The music was mainly Christmas songs, with a bit of Arcade Fire thrown in for spice. Ellie insisted on washing some dishes, and I actually let her, which means I must have been tipsier than I realized.
All in all, a fantastic evening.
Roasted Tomato Soup
Adapted from Ina Garten
3 lbs. plum tomatoes, sliced in half lengthwise
1/4 cup plus 2 tbs. olive oil, divided
1 tbs. kosher salt
1 1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
2 tbs. unsalted butter
2 small yellow onions, chopped
6 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
28 oz. canned plum tomatoes, with juice
4 cups fresh basil leaves
1 tsp. fresh thyme leaves, plus extra for garnish
1 quart chicken stock
Pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Toss the fresh tomatoes with 1/4 cup of the olive oil, the salt and the pepper, and spread evenly, in layer, on one large or two small rimmed baking sheets. Roast for 35-45 minutes, until well-browned.
In a large dutch oven or stockpot, heat the remaining 2 tbs. of olive oil and the butter over medium heat. Once the butter has melted, add the onions, garlic and red pepper flakes, and saute until the onions have begun to turn brown around the edges.
Add the canned tomatoes, basil, thyme and chicken stock. Add the roasted tomatoes, with their juices, and bring the mixture to a simmer. Simmer, uncovered, for forty minutes.
Using a stick blender (or a traditional blender, working in batches), blend to desired consistency (I like it thick but not chunky). Taste and adjust for seasoning and serve each bowl sprinkled with a few fresh thyme leaves.
Serves six, generously. Can be made up to a day ahead and reheated gently on the stovetop.