photograph by Revival Creatives

Melting Pot series: A soup pot contains multitudes — not just from our gardens and pantries, but from our cultures and memories, too. Go ahead, throw everything in, and wait for it to simmer. What happens next is magic: One whiff and you’re transported back home, to the warmth of family. Learn about seven soups served across the state.

The trouble with food trucks is that they’re restaurants on wheels: They don’t stay put. Just when you discover something you love, the restaurant is headed someplace else. In Charlotte, this usually isn’t a problem. If you miss one truck’s quesadillas, you can go down a block and find a Mongolian rice bowl instead.

The problem is, I’m obsessed with one particular soup. I have actually gotten in my car on rainy, cold days to chase down the Papi Queso food truck. The owner, Chef Brian Stockholm, specializes in haute grilled cheese sandwiches, like mushroom and Gruyère or green chile Philly with Coca-Cola-braised steak. What drives me isn’t his sandwiches, though. It’s his smoky-sweet tomato soup. He used to serve it only in winter, but now he only takes it off the menu at the very hottest part of summer. I doubt folks would tolerate its absence any longer than that.

After Andy Warhol, Stockholm may be the second person to elevate tomato soup to art: He cooks together San Marzano-style tomatoes, fennel, coriander, and a generous amount of smoked paprika and smoked chiles. Then he uses a high-power blender to emulsify the mixture while it’s hot, creating a light, smooth texture. Finally, he reheats this base with tarragon-infused cream.

The soup comes in a cardboard container, but that’s a good thing: I usually toss aside the plastic spoon and bend the edge into a little spout, so I can drink it without getting it on my office clothes. With a soup like that, grilled cheese is just an afterthought.

Chef Brian Stockholm’s Smoky Tomato Soup

Courtesy of Papi Queso Food Truck in Charlotte.

Yield: 6 to 8 servings.

¼ pound unsalted butter
1 bay leaf
1½ tablespoons fresh minced garlic
1 tablespoon crushed fennel seed
1½ teaspoons coriander seed
2 tablespoons smoked paprika
½ tablespoon crushed Aleppo pepper
2 tablespoons sugar
1 small onion, chopped
1 large carrot, chopped
3 celery stalks, chopped
2 tablespoons kosher salt
4 cups organic crushed tomatoes
5 cups water
2 cups heavy cream
3 fresh tarragon sprigs
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Slowly melt butter in a large soup pot over low heat. Add bay leaf, garlic, fennel, coriander, paprika, crushed Aleppo pepper, and sugar. Stir frequently for 4 to 5 minutes. Add onions, carrots, celery, and kosher salt. Cook 4 minutes or until softened.

Add crushed tomatoes and water, and bring to a simmer. Reduce heat and cook on low heat for about 2 hours. Puree mixture in a blender or with an immersion blender until the soup becomes bright orange and silky smooth.

Return pureed soup to a clean pot. Add heavy cream and whole tarragon sprigs, and bring to a low simmer for 5 minutes to infuse the flavors. Add salt and freshly ground pepper to taste. Strain finished soup through a sieve and serve.

Melting Pot series: Ramen


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Purvis is the food editor for The Charlotte Observer. She is the author of two Savor the South Cookbooks: Pecans and Bourbon. Purvis has been cookbook awards chair for the James Beard Awards since 2000.