“All chowders were born of necessity. They were invented by humble working people, who made them with local, inexpensive ingredients from the sea or the land.”
— Jasper White, “50 Chowders”
Most think of clams or fish when it comes to chowder. For when the sea is distant, farmhouse chowders omit the seafood, and make use of what’s on hand and in season. Still falling within the bounds of a true chowder, it starts with a savory base of salt pork or bacon, onions, and potatoes. After that, it’s all a matter of where one’s imagination — or larder — takes you.
In this case, Smoky Tomato and Bacon Chowder was the result. We’ve a basement full of winter tomatoes and, as we move deeper towards winter, managing them in storage is a matter of use them or lose them. To go with the tomatoes, we were imagining something warming for these cold nights, rich without the heaviness of cream, and thick with flavors deep enough to stand up to the season’s dark days.
Adding flour after the vegetables are cooked resolves the problem of choosing milk over cream, and the risk of it breaking. Don’t worry if the flour looks pasty (middle photo) after being stirred into the vegetables. It will smooth out when the liquids are added, and also help to thicken the chowder. Think of this recipe as a base and customize it yourself; just make sure that whatever you’re adding is cut into similar size as the other ingredients, which allows for everything to cook evenly. At the last minute, we slipped in some leftover braised fennel and a handful of frozen corn, which added some sweetness while making extra room in the fridge.
Smoky Tomato and Bacon Chowder
4 to 6 bacon slices, diced
1 onion, diced
1 green pepper, diced
2 stalks of celery, including leaves, chopped
4 cups diced tomatoes, with their juices (or quart of canned tomatoes)
2 potatoes, peeled and diced
1/4 cup flour
2 cups stock
2 cups milk
1 bay leaf
Several pinches of smoked paprika, to taste
1 cup of grated cheddar
Spoonful of mustard
– Cook the diced bacon in a heavy soup pot over medium low heat, until enough fat has rendered to sauté the rest of the vegetables in. Stir in the diced onion and pepper, and cook until beginning to soften. Add the tomatoes, continue cooking until they begin to collapse. Next add the diced potatoes and stir to coat.
– Sprinkle the flour on top of the vegetables, and mix in. Don’t worry if it looks pasty (see middle photo above), the flour will keep the milk from breaking and help thicken the chowder. Once the flour is thoroughly incorporated, slowly pour in the stock then the milk, stirring all the while to prevent the liquid from becoming lumpy. Bring to a simmer, and let cook until the potatoes are tender. Stir in the grated cheddar, a spoonful of mustard, and season to taste. Garnish with something green such as minced parsley or scallions, and, if desired, a shot of hot sauce for piquancy. For extra luxury, a pat of butter let to melt and slick the top of the chowder.
Local ingredients: Bacon from Meadow’s Mirth; onion from Black Kettle Farm; pepper from New Roots Farm; cheddar from Brookford Farm; milk from Harris Farm; tomatoes, potatoes, and cutting celery from the garden; homemade stock.