The Dunbar Room serves this creamy comfort food all day, all year-round.
AFTER THE magnificently long, hot, dry summer we had, it’s difficult to imagine a soggy winter, but that’s probably what we’ll get. For me, few things take the chill off a cold and blustery day better than a piping hot bowl of tomato soup. When it’s well made, it’s sweet and savory, rich and satisfying, and just creamy enough to soften the edge of acidity from the tomatoes. It also happens to be full of vitamin C, for staving off colds.
But not everyone relegates tomato soup to the colder months. In fact, during the midweek, midsummer lunch hour when I visited The Dunbar Room at the Hotel Sorrento, 30 bowls of it were served.
The Hotel Sorrento has been serving its tomato soup for longer than anyone can remember. It was already a fixture when it appeared on the menu for Thanksgiving Dinner in 1923 (a copy of the menu hangs in the hotel’s lobby).
Although the accompaniments have changed over the years, executive chef Nathan Batway says the basic soup has remained the same. After all, “There’s nothing wrong with it,” he says.
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In fact, it’s perfectly delicious and simple to make. For consistency, the hotel uses canned tomatoes so it can be served year-round. It’s so popular, it’s on the lunch and dinner menus.
At lunch, the soup is served alongside a grilled cheese sandwich, currently made with Grand Central Bakery’s Como bread, well-buttered before grilling so the outside gets crisp and golden and the inside stays soft, and filled with a creamy, decadent combination of Havarti and Fontina cheeses. When I first fell in love with it, the sandwich oozed tangy Beecher’s Flagship, and that’s the way I made it at home when I tried out the recipe. As it reads, the recipe makes a soup with a gentle warm heat (from the cayenne) that my kids preferred to mitigate by using their sandwiches as a utensil. I used a spoon.
Makes 1 gallon
¼ cup vegetable oil
2 pounds yellow onions (about 2 large), diced or sliced
12 cups (four 28-ounce cans) peeled San Marzano tomatoes with their juice
2 cups heavy cream
3 tablespoons light brown sugar
3 teaspoons kosher salt (plus more to taste)
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper (less if your kids are like mine)
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper (plus more to taste)
1. Heat the vegetable oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pan over medium heat. Add the onions, and stir to coat with oil. Cook the onions, stirring from time to time so they don’t stick to the pan, until they start to brown. Reduce the heat to medium-low, and continue cooking until they caramelize and turn dark brown, about 45 minutes.
2. When the onions are brown, puree them in a blender with the tomatoes in batches until perfectly smooth. Pour the puree into a stockpot.
3. Add the cream, sugar, salt, allspice, cardamom, cayenne and black pepper, and stir to combine.
4. Bring the soup to a boil. Reduce the heat, and simmer the soup for 30 minutes to cook the tomatoes and let the flavors develop, stirring frequently to prevent scorching.
5. Serve as is, or with a dollop of pesto or a drizzle of heavy cream.