"Secret Ingredient" Tomato Soup with Crispy Herbed Polenta Croutons

Poor little anchovy, he is the unsung hero in the culinary world .  The minute you mention anchovy,  people purse their lips, and nod their head side to side silently communicating – NO, as if the mere mention of the word leaves a bad taste in their mouth.  Most commonly the first comment out of their mouth is they don’t like “fishy fish”.  People, people… please! I don’t know how to tell  you this, but this innocent anchovy that you are accusing of tasting and smelling like the pier on a hot summer’s day is…NOT GUILTY!  Anchovy is your friend, and most importantly it is the buttery, nutty, and salty flavor you are looking for in the kitchen- it’s your “secret ingredient”.  I do mean  SECRET, because if you tell anyone that you’ve put it in the sauce, butter, or soup… they won’t eat it. 

I have a fondness for tomato soup like you might have for your favorite cozy pajamas and  warm slippers on a cold day.  Lucky for me it seems to be everywhere during the cold months here in California… I mean it gets like 50 degrees here! Somehow we manage to suffer through it, forced to wear socks and find our hoodies.  Although tomato soup is easy to find on the menu,  it’s not always what you were looking for –  usually disappointing.  The soup is either too thick and tastes like  a bowl of marinara, too acidic, or worse it has a pint of cream added to it… so it’s weak in tomato flavor and over the top in calories. Honestly, anyone can make good soup by adding cream, it takes a lot more finesse to elevate the ingredients to shine and taste their best. 
You know that typically I only like to use ingredients that are in season, but tomato soup is what you want to eat when it’s cold outside, so I opted to use San Marzano tomatoes out of a can.  They are my “go to” tomato during the winter months for sauces, stews and soups.  I make almost all of  my soups in the same basic way,  by first roasting the ingredients with olive oil and onion to caramelize and concentrate the flavors.  I finish the soup by pureeing all the ingredients with the tomato juice until creamy and smooth.   The addition of the roasted red pepper, anchovy, and sherry in this recipe are barely noticeable if at all. You might even consider leaving them out- but don’t. Cooking with layers of flavors is a balancing act that requires a lot of tasting and adjusting, that’s the fun part.  The end result of combining many flavors is to produce one perfectly scrumptious flavor.  In this case rich, sweet, warm, and buttery – Tomato. I topped my soup with crispy polenta croutons- why?  Let’s save the conversation about my polenta obsession for another day. ..

Tomato Soup
Serves 6-8

2- 28oz cans of San Marzano peeled tomatoes (D.O.P. Certified)- juice drained and reserved
2 anchovy fillets or 1 Tablespoon of anchovy paste
1 cup white or yellow onion (about 4 oz) – roughly chopped
1 large garlic clove-skin removed
2 medium roasted red peppers- peeled with stem and seeds removed
¼ cup good quality extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3 Tablespoons golden brown sugar- loosely packed


10 large fresh basil leaves (can be substituted with 1 Tablespoon of dried basil)
1 cup low sodium vegetable broth
1 teaspoon dry Spanish sherry
Fresh basil for garnish



Preheat oven to 450 degrees and place rack in the upper third of the oven (not the top)
Line a large baking sheet with foil or parchment
Drain tomatoes over a large bowl- pressing tomatoes gently to remove excess juice- reserve tomato juice (about 1 quart = 4 cups)
Place tomatoes pre roasted peppers, anchovy, onion, and garlic onto baking sheet
Gently toss with olive oil, salt, pepper, and sugar
Place into preheated oven and roast for 30 minutes
Remove from oven and carefully spoon ingredients and liquid into a blender. (If any of the outside edges burnt and became black, leave them out)
Add in half of the reserved tomato juice and puree with basil leaves until completely smooth. (Add in more juice if needed to get the blender going)
Pour soup into a large soup pot with remaining juice, vegetable stock, and sherry- stir to combine
Simmer on low for 15-20 minutes.
Serve warm with basil and polenta croutons


Herbed Polenta Croutons
2 cups low sodium vegetable broth
1 cup 1% milk
1 cup ground yellow cornmeal
1 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 Tablespoon unsalted butter
1 Tablespoon grated Parmesan cheese


1 Tablespoon olive oil



In a medium sauce pot combine broth, milk, Italian seasoning, and salt – bring to a simmer
Slowly add in corn meal and whisk until completely combined- it will resemble a thick porridge
Reduce heat to low and continue to stir occasionally with a wooden spoon – about 15 minutes- polenta will be thick.
Remove from heat and add in butter and cheese- stir well
Spray a rimmed baking sheet with cooking spray and pour polenta onto baking sheet
With a spatula evenly spread out polenta to desired thickness- about ½ inch ( about an 8×8 inch square)
Set into the refrigerator to cool and set- about 15 minutes
Cut polenta into small cubes- about the size of dice
Heat a saute pan over medium heat and add in 1 Tablespoon of olive oil
Fry polenta croutons until golden on each side
Polenta can be made ahead and rewarmed in a 350 degree oven
Serve warm on top of soup

13 comments… add one
  • highplainsdrifters January 11, 2011, 8:01 pm

    Socks and Hoodies … sounds like the name of the latest Jim Jarmusch movie or an alt-folk album.

    Polenta croutons … who'd a-thunk it?

    Fortunately for us, we have more than just a few sub-50 days ahead of us to provide the proper souping environment. Cheers!

  • Renee Fontes January 11, 2011, 8:32 pm

    The heart in the soup…too cute Louise. Now when we go out for lunch, I'll expect you to bring along this recipe in a thermos! ~chefrenee

  • Sippity Sup January 12, 2011, 12:17 am

    You don't have to sell me on anchovies, or tomato soup. I am a fan already. GREG

  • Amanda Stuckey January 12, 2011, 1:02 am

    Ooooo louise this is just what i need right now! I'm not sure if I can get my hands on smoe sherry, but I'll take your advice and use the anchovies. (I'm feeling courageous.)

    Also I love the bottom picture with the heart-shaped polenta crouton. Very sweet and yummy-looking.

  • Angie's Recipes January 12, 2011, 5:31 am

    The tomato soup looks simply mouthwatering and just perfect for any day!

  • Steve January 12, 2011, 3:03 pm

    Ok, Louise. I've spent my life running from anchovies, but you've convinced me to give them another chance. I'll let you know. And what the heck, I'll slso have some of those incredible looking croutons. Steve

  • Nicole@ The Dirty Oven January 13, 2011, 2:35 am

    Can you be more cute! Love the post and love love the heart polenta. Made me smile. Much needed. Thanks.

  • Lentil Breakdown January 13, 2011, 5:02 am

    This looks absolutely lovely, and I am going to steal your polenta heart idea! I have a little heart and a lotta polenta (although I might be better off the other way around).

  • Lana January 14, 2011, 9:30 am

    Love, love, love the tomato soup! And I agree wholeheartedly with all your observations re-tomato soup in restaurants.
    I usually poach eggs in tomato soup, but adding the polenta croutons would make me a hero in the family (especially if I cut out the little hearts, like you did:)
    And I love anchovies, too!

  • Chef Debbi November 19, 2011, 5:16 am

    What no cream? Looks lovely Louise!

  • Amber November 19, 2011, 5:44 pm

    Gorgeous photography! And I agree–despite growing 150+ lbs of tomatoes in my garden this year, I wasn’t in the mood for tomato soup in the middle of a hot summer. Now is about the time I start craving it. I look forward to trying this. Although I don’t like anchovies on my pizza, I do like sneaking them into pasta sauce for a kick. Never tried it in soup. Thanks for the tip! 🙂

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