This simple Provencal Tomato Soup is a favorite at our classes. It can be made with either fresh or canned tomatoes and eaten hot in the winter or cold in the summer. Some... cooks I know prefer to use Arborio rice, so substitute it for the barley if you prefer.
In France à la Provençale means lots of garlic. There may seem to be a lot in this soup, but fear not; the way it’s cooked gives the soup a soft, rich flavor. Garlic is such a good cancer-fighting vegetable; it’s great to have this delicious showcase for it — and with tomatoes, too. Tomatoesare bursting with lycopene, a cancer-fighting agent that becomes more accessible to the body with cooking. Who knew healthy could taste so good?
Heat the oil over medium-high heat in a wide, heavy-bottomed pan. Add the onion and cook for a minute. Turn the heat to medium, add the bay leaves and sweat the onion until it starts to soften, about 8 minutes. It shouldn’t color, so stir from time to time to prevent it sticking and burning.
Turn the heat up to medium-high. Add the cayenne pepper, sugar and cook for a minute, then add the tomatoes and garlic. Cook, stirring until the tomatoes take on an orangey hue and have reduced a little.
Add the pearl barley, Parmesan rind, if using, and the stock, plus salt to taste. Bring to a simmer, lower the heat and cover. Cook until the barley is tender enough to smash with a spoon against the side of the pan, about 40 minutes. If substituting Arborio rice, it will take about half the amount of time to cook.
Let the soup sit for a few minutes. Remove the bay leaves and blend thoroughly, in batches, using either a wand blender or a freestanding one. Return to the pot, check the seasoning and add a grind or two of black pepper. Serve as is or with a few torn basil leaves or a little pesto stirred into it.