Recipe for History: Politics & Food – Tomato Soup with Parmesan Popcorn

tomato soup with parmesan popcorn

What on earth could a bowl of creamy tomato soup have to do with politics?

Politics are a big deal in the United States, especially in our current political climate. And much attention is given to political candidates eating the local foods when they campaign: we’re notorious for judging a candidate as ‘elitist’ or ‘unrefined’ based on what they eat and how. However, until recently I’d never given much thought to the food being related to politics as being anything but uninteresting. But then our fearless leader Kari challenged me to provide a recipe inspired by our very own Statecraft Podcast, and I had my work cut out for me.

My husband and I are fascinated by a public television cooking show called A Taste of History with chef Walter Staib. In the show, Chef Staib explores colonial cooking and shares what our earliest presidents would have eaten. So when trying to figure out a recipe to share that relates directly to politics, I spent some time researching what our presidents served at their Inaugural Dinners.

Inaugural Feasts

I found a wide variety of foods eaten by American presidents at their inaugural dinners, some more interesting than others. Our most recent inaugural luncheon, enjoyed by the Trump family, featured Maine lobster, Gulf shrimp and American Angus beef. The Obamas’ menu listed traditional but healthful foods like steamed lobster, grilled bison and New England Clam Chowder (also known as the BEST kind of clam chowder). Dessert was a true American staple: apple pie. Eisenhower’s menu embodied the 1950s with creamed chicken, baked ham and potato puffs. FDR served the rolls at his luncheon without butter and the cake had no frosting due to war rationing. Benjamin Harrison’s meal of oysters, cold tongue and quail would seem alien to most modern day Americans, while Lincoln’s foie gras, terrapin stew and roast leg of veal seems uncharacteristically upscale for our log cabin president.

What really surprised me was the simplicity of JFK’s dinner.

JFK Inaugural Menu
Image courtesy of

The man served GARLIC BREAD to foreign dignitaries! And tomato soup! But with crushed popcorn on top which is GENIUS! Why hadn’t I thought of that before?! I couldn’t locate the actual recipe, so I tweaked my favorite tomato bisque. I also fancied up the popcorn topping with Parmesan cheese and Italian seasoning for an extra kick of flavor.

Cream of Tomato Soup with Parmesan Popcorn

Practically raised on tomato soup, specifically Campbell’s, I always asked for mine made with only water. Cream of Tomato soup was icky! It wasn’t until I made my own tomato bisque from scratch that I began to truly enjoy tomato soup with a creamy element. The basil pesto and whole milk Greek yogurt replaced fresh basil and heavy cream or half and half, because that’s what I had on hand. The Greek yogurt provides some extra protein, too! And the popcorn? Imagine a slightly crunchy bite that melts ever so gently into the creamy soup. The popcorn topping even caused my husband to find me in another room to tell me how cool it was. Thanks, JFK!

Ingredients were gathered.

Get the onions and garlic sauteeing in the olive oil then toast the tomato paste slightly before adding the crushed tomatoes and water and setting it to simmer.

Next up is making the popcorn topping! Get your lovely assistant to pop 2 cups of air-popped popcorn. On a baking tray lined with foil, lay the popcorn out into a single layer then top with Parmesan and Italian seasoning. Bake at around 350 for 5-10 minutes until the cheese is melted and golden brown.

After the soup simmered for about 20 minutes, blitz it up until smooth, add the pesto and simmer an additional 5 minutes. Turn off the heat and stir in the Greek yogurt.

Then all you have to do is ladle it into bowls and top with the popcorn right before serving!

Look at all that tasty, crispy, popcorny goodness just melting into that savory, herbaceous soup! HEAVEN! Just the thing to remind you that sometimes good things DO come out of politics!

Without further ado, here’s the recipe:

Cream of Tomato Soup with Parmesan Popcorn

Category: soup

Servings: Makes 4 servings.

tomato soup with parmesan popcorn


  • 1 1/2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2 cup onions, chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper
  • 2 tbsp tomato paste
  • 28 oz. can crushed tomatoes with basil
  • 2 cups water
  • 1/4 cup basil pesto
  • 1/2 cup plain whole milk Greek yogurt
  • 2 cups air-popped popcorn
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan
  • 1 tsp Italian seasoning


  1. In a large French oven or stock pot, warm the olive oil over medium high heat and add the onions and garlic. Saute for about 5 minutes or until the onions are translucent but not browned.
  2. Add salt, pepper and tomato paste and cook the tomato paste for 30 seconds to a minute to caramelize it a little, then add the crushed tomatoes and water. Let simmer for 15-20 minutes or until thickened.
  3. Meanwhile, cover a cookie sheet with parchment or aluminum foil and toss the popcorn with Parmesan and Italian seasoning. Set in a 30 degree oven or toaster oven for 10-15 minutes until golden brown and the cheese as melted. Remove from the oven and allow to cool.
  4. Add the pesto and allow to simmer for 5 additional minutes. Using a stick blender, or by carefully ladling soup into a regular blender, blend until smooth. (Be very careful if using a regular blender: hot liquids expand explosively. Don't fill the pitcher more than half way and hold the lid with a towel to protect yourself.)
  5. Turn off the heat then stir in the Greek yogurt.
  6. Divide the soup between four bowls. Top each with Parmesan popcorn immediately before serving.

Nutrition Facts

Cream of Tomato Soup with Parmesan Popcorn


Amount Per Serving
Calories 247.6
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 13.1 20.2%
Saturated Fat 0
Trans Fat
Cholesterol 11.9 4%
Sodium 443.4 18.5%
Total Carbohydrate 22.6 7.5%
Dietary Fiber 4.9 19.6%
Protein 10.2
Vitamin A Vitamin C
Calcium Iron

* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your daily values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.

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Andrea Freitas