This easy tomato soup recipe can be made with pantry ingredients. Credit: Sandy Oliver

Tomato soup is one of our ultimate comfort foods, especially served with a grilled cheese sandwich. You can make it easily, since the store soup shelves may be bereft of it, as they were two weeks ago when last I went grocery shopping.

The other close-to-bare shelves were the pasta sauce, diced or pureed and canned tomato sauce shelves. Those, along with pasta itself, had understandably whizzed out the door. Boil up pasta and dump the sauce on, and dinner’s ready.

By the look of things, it seemed to me that we might get kind of tired of pasta and tomato sauce suppers. So, what about a change? Save the pasta for a salad (with grated carrots, a little chopped pepper, celery, dab of mayo) and use the sauce in a homemade tomato soup.

This is no time to be doctrinaire about a recipe. At any given time these days, we might not be able to get the perfect combination of ingredients, so playing it by ear is definitely the way to go.

If it is red and used to be a tomato, it is fair game for soup.

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A jar of prepared tomato sauce, with or without meat, with a couple cups of beef bouillon added, or just plain water works fine. Taste and add seasonings — herbs like basil, oregano, or marjoram, plus garlic in any form (salt, dried powdered or fresh), if you want. A can of plain tomato sauce is better when you dump in a small can of stewed tomatoes or tomato paste and add bouillon and seasonings. Or start with a can of stewed tomatoes and puree it. Taste your soup, and see what it needs. If it seems a little bitter, add sugar or a hefty squirt of ketchup which often has a generous quantity of sugar in it. A little milk, even evaporated, smooths it out and makes it more like the canned sort.

Tomato soup is good with add-ins like small pasta — stars or rice shaped orzo. Rice is another good addition. Top it with croutons or serve it with saltines.

I started my soup with a chopped onion and a rib of chopped celery sautéed in olive oil. I had about a quart of plain sauce (a large can) to which I added two cups of bouillon. Garlic, oregano, and lots of basil, pepper, and a spoonful of sugar rounded it out with a wee sprinkle of red pepper flakes. I let it simmer and stand for a while to let the flavors get acquainted.

And yes, grilled cheese sandwiches and homemade bread-and-butter pickles accompanied the soup to table. It was lovely, cheap, and easy.

Homemade Free-for-All Tomato Soup

Serves 4-5

1-2 tablespoons olive or vegetable oil

1 medium onion, chopped, optional

1 rib of celery, chopped, optional

2 cloves garlic, optional

1 quart (plus or minus) prepared tomato sauce, marinara, or stewed tomatoes

2-3 cups beef bouillon

2-3 teaspoons oregano

2-3 teaspoons basil

1-2 teaspoons marjoram

Pinch of red pepper flakes, optional, to taste

Salt and pepper to taste

— Put the olive oil in a soup pot, and add the onion and celery, sauté for 5 minutes or until the vegetables are just tender.

— Add the garlic and sauté a minute more.

— Add bouillon and tomatoes and/or sauce and simmer together for 20 minutes.

— Add herbs and taste, adjusting flavor with salt and pepper, additional herbs if wished.

— Let simmer over a very low temperature for another 20 minutes.

Sandy Oliver, Taste Buds

Sandy Oliver, Taste Buds

Sandy Oliver Sandy is a freelance food writer with the column Taste Buds appearing weekly since 2006 in the Bangor Daily News, and regular columns in Maine Boats, Homes, and Harbors magazine and The Working...