Romanian Tomato Soup… or “Ciorba de Rosii”

Romanian Tomato Soup… or “Ciorba de Rosii”  Ciorba de rosii was a staple at our house when I was growing up… always made during the summer months with garden-fresh tomatoes from my mom’s garden. We especially loved it with my mom’s homemade taitei, or fresh pasta noodles. It’s interesting but our family, for the most part,  always ate the soup cold, but I know other  families eat the soup warm. In any case, the soup can easily be had warm or cold… 
Sometimes my dad would make a side dish of crushed/smashed salted onion, or “ceapa frecata cu sare”…  to go alongside the soup.  Now, I have to explain what I mean by the onion side dish. You see, my dad would take a large onion, score it about 1/ 3 of the way deep, sprinkle some salt inside the scored onion,  and then close it, all along crushing and smashing the onion between the palms of his hands. He did this just until the onion softened a bit. This technique actually allowed the onion to loose its pungency, and taste somewhat sweet. It was so delicious with the soup!
Normally, the tomato soup can have a variety of different starches added to it. While I ended up using the rice variation in this post for the step-by-step photos( gluten-free), I normally like to omit the rice altogether. From time to time I will substitute the rice with orzo, or make some semolina dumplings(my personal favorite). For ease of preparation, and  a quick alternative to homemade pasta(taitei), you can add some broken spaghetti, or bow-ties, or other small pasta. Either way, I thought to share yet another Romanian dish, one that is perfect for the summer months. The soup is best made with garden-fresh tomatoes that are at their peak… ripe and flavorful. And if you have your own garden, with quite a few tomatoes on hand, then you can easily add a couple more to the soup… it won’t change the soup much( it will probably make it better:)). Of course, you can freeze some of the tomatoes for  winter if you have too many… they will come in real handy then:)! Actually, I ended up making this soup with a mixture of frozen tomatoes and fresh. 
I know some folks make this soup with canned tomatoes, I suppose you can, but I much prefer the taste from garden-fresh tomatoes. However, I do add a bit of tomato paste… for depth of flavor and rich color. This soup has got to be my absolute favorite soup of the summer. I could eat it cold, room temperature, or even hot. Hope you enjoy….   
Note: You can also make this soup in a pressure cooker. I’ve put the times in the directions below.
If you would like to make semolina dumplings, you can see how they are made here….  semolina dumplings.
Optional: You can puree the cooked tomatoes in a blender instead of crushing them through a sieve… see directions. 

You will need: 
2 celery stalks, cut in large pieces
2 carrots, cut in large pieces
1 small parsnip, cut in large pieces
1 large garlic clove, sliced
1 onion, cut in in quarters
10 cups water 
1 TBS kosher salt, or to taste
2 lbs( about 6-7 large) ripe, garden-fresh tomatoes

3 TBS olive oil
1 small onion, finely diced
1/4-1/3 cup short grain rice/orzo* 
1 heaping TBS tomato paste
extra salt, if needed
freshly ground pepper, to taste
* can substitute with homemade thin pasta(taitei) or semolina dumplings… or can be left out completely. 

Extra:
chopped lovage( leustean)
chopped celery leaves
ground pepper, to taste

Directions:
1. Clean/peel/cut up vegetables (except tomatoes) and place in a large soup pot. 
2. Add 10 cups of water and salt.
3. Bring  to a boil and cover… lower heat and simmer for about 20-30 minutes. I used my pressure cooker for 20 minutes. The longer you cook the vegetables, the better the flavor of the stock.   
4. Remove regular pot lid after about 20 minutes, and add the whole tomatoes(or process the tomatoes and skip step 5). Cook for and additional 10-20 minutes. If using a pressure cooker, release pressure after 20 minutes and then add the tomatoes and place the lid back, bring to pressure and continue to cook for an additional 10 minutes. 
5. Remove tomatoes from stock and place in a fine strainer, crush to release all the juice. Some tomatoes may be too soft to remove from  the stock… it’s ok, you just want the bigger pieces of tomato. Place the cooked tomatoes in a fine strainer.  and crush to release as much juice/pulp as possible. The idea is to leave behind only the tomato skin and seeds.  You can pour some stock over the pulp to help the pulp move down  through the strainer. (Sidenote: If you want, you can always use a high speed blender to blend the tomatoes without having to worry about losing too much of the tomato pulp… just puree the tomatoes and add it in step 4.)     
6. After most of the pulp/juice from the tomatoes have been pushed through the strainer, pour the rest of the vegetables and stock from the pot … passing the liquid and vegetables through the strainer. 
7. Press the vegetables down a bit to release any remaining liquid… you don’t want to press too, too hard… just enough to get all the liquid.     

8. Set tomato stock aside.
9. In  the same pot, heat the 3 TBS oil and add the minced onion. Cook for 7-10 minutes or until onion is  soft and gets a slight golden color.
10. Add rice/orzo and cook for 30 seconds-1 minute…. if you don’t want to use rice or orzo you can skip this step.
11. Add the tomato paste to the rice and onion mixture( or to the onion only, if not using rice) and cook for an additional minute.
12. Pour the reserved tomato stock over onion/rice mixture and whisk to combine.
13. Bring to a boil, cover pot with lid and lower heat to a simmer. Cook until rice/orzo is cooked… another 10-15 minutes.  (Sidenote: At this point, if you haven’t used rice or orzo and want to use homemade dumplings/pasta, you can add it now and adjust cooking time until dumplings/pasta is cooked through… if you would like to make the semolina dumplings, just click on the above link(under ingredient list) for directions. Adjust seasoning… I added an extra 1 tsp of kosher salt. Add freshly ground pepper.
14. Garnish with chopped celery leaves and/or chopped lovage. You could also use parsley… or even basil.

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