Tomato soup
Morgan Timms/St. Louis Post-Dispath/TNS

When it comes to food, there’s nothing better than fresh vegetables from the home garden. My granddaughter Meagan Carter wholeheartedly agrees.

Meagan showed an interest in cooking when she was only 4 or 5 years old. I tried to interest her in baking, but that is just not her “thing.” She does not like to measure anything, and any baker can tell you how important measuring is in baking. So I guess baking is out .. but cooking in general is in, and she is good at it.

Meagan learned to fully appreciate fresh veggies from helping her paternal grandmother, Janice Jones. Meagan cooks from scratch and doesn’t want any canned vegetables in her meal planning — unless it is home-canned tomatoes. Meagan learned to can fresh tomatoes with Mama Janice, who always had lots of them when Meagan was growing up.

When we were talking recently about the fresh vegetables that friends were sharing with us, Meagan recalled that when she was a young girl, she and her Mama Janice would sit on the porch and string and snap green beans, shuck and clean many ears of corns and shell field peas that friends had shared from their gardens. Janice also taught Meagan how to prepare these “garden goodies,” and Meagan must have paid attention because she cooks some of the best food I have ever tasted.

Sometimes she simply cuts up whatever fresh vegetables we have, puts them in a large shallow pan, sprinkles them with olive oil and seasons them with salt and pepper. She says you can vary the seasoning according to your liking. They are cooked in the oven until tender. Simple, easy and flavorful.

Her fresh green beans are cooked the old-fashioned way (many hours) like Mama Janice’s. All I need with these is some cornbread and Vidalia onion.

One of my favorite fresh vegetables is the tomato. The first thing I want when I get a good home-grown tomato is a sandwich made with white bread, plenty of mayonnaise and sliced tomato.

While working at a cooking school in Manhattan, I learned to make cream of tomato soup similar to one served at a gourmet deli across the street from the school. The deli was one of my favorite places to go for lunch, and their tomato soup was usually what I ordered. The following is my version of that soup using fresh tomatoes. This is best when made with fresh basil.

CREAM OF TOMATO SOUP

  • ½ cup butter
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 6 large fresh tomatoes, peeled and chopped
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil (or 1 teaspoon dried)
  • 1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
  • ¼ teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 cup heavy cream (whipping cream, not whipped)

Melt butter in large skillet. Saute onion until tender but not browned. Add chopped tomatoes, basil, salt and pepper. Cover and cook over low heat until tomatoes are soft but not mushy. This will probably take about 10 minutes. Pour mixture in the bowl of a food processor and, while machine is running, gradually add the heavy cream. Continue processing until smooth. Best served slightly warm. A sprinkling of shredded cheese adds a nice flavor boost.

Award-winning chef Prudence Hilburn’s cooking column appears every other week. Contact her at prudencehilburn@aol.com.