For many years, one of our favorite restaurants in San Francisco was Alioto’s. They’re located right on the Fisherman’s Wharf above their fresh fish market. During one of my lunches there, I pressed (tipped) the waiter for the recipe for their tomato base used in their Cioppino. I ended up with a hand written list on butcher’s paper listing the ingredients for making five gallons of the base (I wish I still had the note). I took it back to Seattle and broke it down to a smaller quantity and have been using it regularly ever since.
When I make a batch I usually triple the quantities and I cook down my base until it gets thick and reduced prior to freezing which allows me to use it as a quick tomato soup. When I use it for Cioppino I just add a little water/wine. Be bold and try using it with any protein and vegetable combination. It’s great with a good fresh Italian sausage and veggies. If you prefer, go vegetarian and add some nice grains.
As we now reside on the other side of the world from San Fran, It’s been a number of years since we last visited Alioto’s, but I’m betting it’s still a great place to dine. Oh and yes, in my opinion there is not a better dining view looking out over the bay than at Alioto’s.
Always start with the freshest produce (local if available) and the best canned tomatoes you can afford. In the US I always used San Marzano. You can get them in most grocery stores sold under the Cento brand, La Valle or the American San Marzano brand. Here in Sweden we have a very good variety of Italian canned tomatoes, but most often I use Mutti brand.
For my friends in North America, Costco usually sells a 6 pound 10 ounce (3,000 gr) can of Nina brand San Marzano tomatoes which I often used. It’s good for a double batch, just use one add one 14 oz (400g) can of tomatoes. I used to pour it (without the can) in my food processor, zip it a few time to chop and then remove about half and then puree the balance. If Costco still has this item it’s a great value.
An option to paying the premium price for San Marzano, is to use Hunt’s or similar, but NOT a generic store brand. Remember this will be the foundation (base) of what ever use you make of it.
So let’s give it a go and I’ll show you how simple it is.
Let’s first chop the shallots and onions. This is likely the hardest part of preparing this recipe. Did you know that cutting a onion with a dull knife will cause your eyes to burn more than if you use a sharp knife?
TIP! Always use a sharp knife. I always use a shape knife and if I have several to prep I chill the onions in the freezer for about 15 minutes before cutting them. If your really sensitive you can put on a pair of swimmers googles, but watch those fingers.
Oh and the thin slice fennel, I use a Good Grips mandoline. It fits snugly over my 4 quart (3.8 L) Pyrex glass mixing bowl.
But if you use a mandoline, tuck those fingers in! And use the guard as directed. I’m cutting here on the 1/16″ (1.5mm) setting. Let’s get the garlic sliced next (by hand).
TIP! Sliced? Why sliced? It makes it easier for people like me that are garlic sensitive to easily pluck the slices out. I use about a third more garlic then is call for when chopping.
After prepping the aromatics ( stuff to saute) collect all the ingredients and we’re ready to get cooking.
For this recipe you can use a large heavy pot or an “Instant Pot” if you have one. I love my Instant Pot, my food blogging mentor Kath over at “In the kitchen with Kath” introduced me to this nifty electrical cooker.
You’ll notice in the image above that mine is from the UK. Couldn’t find them in Sweden, so I ordered it off of Amazon UK here. I also order the glass lid, it’s very handy when I use it as a slow cooker and also as a lid if I store the liner in the fridge.
Next heat either your pot over medium heat or set your Instant Pot on Saute and drizzle in you fat of choice. I always use Olive Oil for this dish, but I’m sure other oils would work fine. Here in Sweden rapeseed oil (Canola in the USA) is the dominate frying fat and it would work fine. Once the oil is hot, throw in the onion and shallots and stir away. Stir the onions/shallots a couple of minutes until they steam and begin to soften.
Let’s get the thin sliced Fennel in the pot and start sauteing with the onions/shallots until they soften (took me 11 minutes in the Instant Pot).
This isn’t so hard, is it. Now let’s toss in the sliced garlic followed by the herbs, stirring until the garlic starts to smell lovely. Don’t forget to stir.
So after stirring for a couple minutes to temper the garlic it’s time to deglaze. Now the recipe calls for 1-1/2 cups or a glass of wine (I prefer white wine here), but make it 3 cups or 2 glasses. One for the tomato base and one for you! Remember, “A meal without wine is breakfast”
You can add the optional tomato paste at this point. I like the addition as tends to give a deeper tomato taste.
TIP! Here in Sweden tomato paste is difficult to find, so for my Swedish readers substitute tomatpuré (I use ICA brand). You should double the amount of puré to the required paste.
Once mixed, you’re ready to add the canned tomatoes and water or fish stock (if using).
A note on fish stock. In North America you can use clam juice about 50/50 to water or you can use canned fish stock, if you can find it. I used to get it from Trader Joe’s when we lived in the US. Here in Sweden we have these lovely fond products (think liquid bouillon cubes) in many flavors. So here I use 1 cup of prepared Lobster fond 3 cups of prepared fish fond. It’s lovely.
Toss in the bay leaves and give it all a big stir.
Let’s get the lid on the stove top pot and simmer slowly for at least 1.5 hours and up to 3 hours. About an hour in, check for seasoning (but go lightly if your using salt). If the base seems a bit thin, remove the lid and continue cooking. Be sure and check regularly.
For the Instant Pot, toss on the lid (or glass cover) and set your Instant Pot on the “Slow Cook” mode for a least of 3.5 hours and up to overnight.
Well there you have. Now you should end up with 11 to 12 cups of base. This base freezes very well. I’ve even used it as a pasta sauce in a pinch. Just cook it down a bit and there you go, you have pasta sauce.
WOW, this is my first full scale, full blown recipe posting. I hope you enjoyed it! Please comment and sign up and watch the site and me grow older!
Tack så mycket och komma igen !!
Tomato Soup Base
- 3 glugs of olive oil (or fat of your choice)
- 1 small red onion - coarsely chopped
- 2 large shallots - minced
- 2 large carrots - sliced (optional)
- 6 large garlic cloves - sliced thin (or 4 minced)
- 2 medium fennel bulbs , sliced very thin (optional)
- 3/4 tsp red pepper flakes or to taste
- 1 tbsp fresh chopped thyme (or 1 tsp dried)
- 1 tbsp dried oregano (Note 2)
- 1 28-30 oz . can of crushed tomato in puree (Note 1)
- 1 28-30 oz . can of chopped tomato (Note 1)
- 1/4 cup tomato paste (optional)
- 1-1/2 cup of a dry wine (white or red)
- 3-4 cups of water (or Fish Stock)
- 2 bay leaves
- Fresh ground pepper to taste (Note 2)
Heat the oil in a large heavy pot using the medium setting, then add onions, shallots and carrots (if using) and cook for a few minutes until the onions begin to soften. Then add the fennel (if using) and saute until translucent, which should take about 10 min. Next add the garlic, thyme, oregano and red pepper and continue to saute over medium heat for an additional two minutes. When the aromatics are sauteed, add the wine and deglaze the bottom of your pot. You can now stir in the tomato paste if using. Once blended, add the tomatoes, water, bay leaves and a pinch of fresh ground pepper. Bring to a slow boil, then reduce to a simmer, cover and continue cooking for a minimum of 1-1/2 hours up to 4 hours.
For a lower fat version steam the onions, fennel and carrots until tender.
Cool and place in the freezer or refrigerator.
Recipe NotesNote 1: Feel free to use fresh peeled tomatoes. You will need about 2 to 2 1/2 pounds of fresh tomatoes to equal one 28 oz can of tomatoes. After peeling and removing the seeds you can blitz (puree) the tomatoes to your desired consistency.
Note 2: Salt is omitted from the base due to the possible saltiness of the seafood to be added. Feel free to salt lightly, based on your taste.
Note 3: If base is being prepared for use in Cioppino or seafood stew substitute seafood stock for the water.