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Provencal Tomato Soup with Rice

2 lbs tomatoes

2 medium onions, halved and sliced

1 medium carrot, coarsely grated

1 celery rib, finely chopped

4 large garlic cloves, finely chopped

3 strips fresh orange zest, finely chopped

1 tsp finely chopped fresh thyme

¼ teaspoon fennel seeds

1 bay leaf

3 tbl olive oil

2 tbl tomato paste

3 cups water

1 ¾ cups chicken broth

¾ tsp salt

¼ tsp black pepper

pinch crumbled saffron threads

2 tsp sugar

¼ cup long grain white rice

2 tbl chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

¼ cup chopped fresh basil 

Cut a shallow X in the bottom of each tomato with a sharp paring knife.  Black tomatoes in bathes of 2 or 3 in a 5 to 6 quart pot of boiling water for 10 seconds, transferring with a slotted spoon to a bowl of ice and cold water to stop cooking.  Peel tomatoes, then halve crosswise.  Squeeze halves gently, cut sides down, over a sieve set over a bowl to extract seeds and juices, then press on seeds and discard them.  Reserve juice and tomatoes.  Cook onions, carrot, celery, garlic, zest, thyme, fennel seeds and bay leaf in oil in a 3 quarter heavy saucepan over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are softened—about 5 minutes.  Add tomatoes with reserved juice, tomato paste, water, chicken broth, salt, pepper, saffron and sugar.  Simmer, uncovered, stirring and breakup up tomatoes with a spoon occasionally—about 20 minutes.  Stir in rice and simmer, uncovered, until rice is tender—10 to 20 minutes.  Discard bay leaf and stir in parsley, basil and salt to taste.  Serves 4-6.