My senior year of college we got a Panera in the Walmart shopping plaza in my college town of Carlisle, PA. I remember the first time someone in my sorority suggested going there and I had no idea what the heck it was. I quickly found out and it quickly became an obsession for the rest of the year. When I first started working at my job straight out of college in 2004, Panera seemed to be exploding all over the Northeast. At the time, I worked in our Northeast region. For a company headquartered in Connecticut and working within higher education, that meant a ton of day trips to the Boston area. Day trips where the sole highlight of the long day and boring drive on I-84 was lunch at Panera and a “You Pick Two” option of a turkey artichoke panini and creamy tomato soup, my go to order 98% of the time.
Tomato soup is one of those things where it’s either disgusting (Campbells) or, delicious (Panera). Usually the latter has cream involved. Lots. of. cream.
2004 was prior to the whole lovely “posting of the calories” thing that has swept the fast food world so I happily enjoyed my half order of creamy tomato soup in calorie oblivion. Now, however, unless you’re blind, the fact that this soup is more than double the calories of most of the soup options they offer is staring you in the face. Your brain is saying, “get the black bean, it’s not that bad and it’s only 170 calories!” But your stomach is saying, “don’t even think about it woman, tomato soup is where it’s at!” Gotta oblige the stomach.
So while I honestly don’t care that much about the calorie content (I don’t go to Panera enough to make this an issue,) I thought it would be a fun challenge to take on making a “healthier,” “real food” version of my beloved soup.
Since cups upon cups of cream weren’t going to be an option, flavor needed to play a big role.
Enter the amazing phenomenon of roasted garlic.
Food blogger confession: (this is about to get embarrassing) Up until this recipe, I had never roasted a head of garlic. Go ahead, gasp in horror. I know. I KNOW.
If for no other reason than licking my fingers after squeezing the roasted cloves out, I will be roasting garlic every chance I get for the rest of my life.
And, it didn’t stop with the garlic.
I single handedly credit the roasted garlic and tomatoes (ok, and maybe the fresh parsley & parmesan cheese too) with the flavor of this soup. It’s creamy and rich like Panera’s but with a depth of flavor that you just don’t get from their 300 calorie, 10 ounce “You Pick Two” version. I didn’t do the nutrition analysis on this recipe, but I bet it beats that.
With half a cup of parsley in the soup itself, it’s also tastes incredibly fresh. Which you should of course counteract with a nice salty parmesan crisp.
While I didn’t have any on hand, a “whole grain baguette” wouldn’t be a bad side option with this. That part’s definitely something they got right.
- 8 large tomatoes, quartered
- 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
- 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
- ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes (or less if you don’t want a bit of a kick to it)
- 1 head of garlic
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 2 cloves of garlic, minced
- 1 large yellow onion, chopped
- ½ cup fresh parsley, chopped
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- 3 cups vegetable broth
- 1 tablespoon brown sugar
- 1 piece of whole wheat bread, toasted & cubed
- ¼ cup heavy cream (or milk)
- ½ cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
- salt & pepper to taste
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
- Line a baking sheet with foil.
- Combine tomatoes, balsamic vinegar, 2 tablespoons of oil and salt & pepper in a large bowl and toss together.
- Spread tomato mixture onto baking sheet.
- Cut off the top of the head of garlic, drizzle 1 tablespoon of oil on top and wrap tightly in tin foil. Place garlic on the baking sheet with the tomatoes.
- Roast for about 45 minutes.
- While tomatoes and garlic are roasting, heat butter and remaining tablespoon of oil in a large heavy bottomed pot over medium heat.
- Add onions and garlic and saute until softened, about 5-7 minutes.
- Once tomatoes & garlic are done roasting, add them to the pot and continue to cook for another 5 minutes.
- Add parsley, broth, tomato paste, brown sugar and cubed bread and simmer for 20-25 minutes uncovered, stirring occasionally.
- Add heavy cream and parmesan cheese and stir until combined.
- Remove soup from heat and puree with an immersion blender or in batches with a regular blender until creamy.
- Season with salt & pepper to taste.
What’s your favorite soup at Panera?