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Christmas Comforts

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Mary Austin and her mother, Carole, gather to prepare creamy tomato bisque. Photographs (2) by Leigh Webber

December 13, 2017

Christmas Comforts
Charleston Wine + Food’s Mary Austin celebrates the holiday season by serving up family soup recipes and nostalgic desserts

Written by Lauren Johnson & Marion Sullivan

When it comes to holidays, Mary Austin is quite, well, merry about the Yuletide. The day after Thanksgiving, the Charleston Wine + Food culinary talent manager—whose resume includes a long run with Hospitality Management Group and 13 years co-owning Mount Pleasant’s Square Onion—sets up her 14 Christmas trees, including two giant firs indoors and a live one in the yard. When the holiday parade marches down Coleman Boulevard, she hosts a tent party from her Old Village home, dressed in a skirt that plays “Jingle Bell Rock.” Still, Austin’s favorite seasonal traditions remain the simpler affairs, like the soup and dessert potluck that her parents have hosted for some 20 years.

The gathering brings friends and family together for comforting bowlfuls and sweets on the Sunday before Christmas. “It often falls on the day of the candlelight service at our church,” explains Austin, who annually makes the drive to her parents’ home in Greenville for the party. This year, though, she also recreated the festive setting, decked in greenery and filled with savory aromas, in her own abode.

The simmering selections vary each holiday, but some favorites remain. “My mom always serves her tomato bisque,” says Austin, explaining that her mother prepares the tangy broth in the summer using fresh Edisto Island tomatoes and then freezes it sans sugar and cream till December. (Come party time, she simply thaws the dish and adds the remaining ingredients.) Start a new tradition and add this warm, cozy dish to your holiday menu.

Mom’s Tomato Bisque

  • 2 Tbs. olive oil
  • 12 oz. salted butter, divided
  • 1 cup thinly sliced yellow onions
  • 1/2 tsp. dried thyme
  • 3/4 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp. black pepper
  • 4 cups chopped fresh summer tomatoes or 32 oz. canned diced tomatoes, not drained
  • 3 Tbs. tomato paste
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3¾ cups chicken broth, divided
  • 1 tsp. sugar
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • Chopped fresh basil for garnish

Heat the oil and eight ounces of the butter in a Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onion, thyme, salt, and pepper, and cook them until the onions are wilted, about eight minutes. Stir in the tomatoes and tomato paste and simmer for 10 minutes.

Place the flour in a small bowl and stir in five tablespoons of the chicken broth, blending them well to make a paste. Stir paste into the tomato mixture. Add remaining broth, stirring constantly to blend well, and simmer for 30 minutes, stirring frequently. Remove from heat and cool to room temperature. Wipe out the Dutch oven.

Pour the cooled mixture into a blender and process until smooth. (You may use an emulsion blender instead of a blender.) Strain the mixture through a fine-mesh strainer back into the Dutch oven. Add the sugar and heavy cream, bring to a simmer over medium heat, and simmer for five minutes, or until the bisque is warm. Stir in the remaining four ounces of butter. Serve with the chopped basil sprinkled on top.

The soup will keep for up to one week in the refrigerator or up to three months in the freezer. Freeze it prior to adding sugar and heavy cream; add them when reheating.

For more of Mary Austin’s holiday recipes, click here.

To read more from our December issue, click here.