Tomato-Garlic Soup

3 Tbs olive oil
3 to 6 large garlic cloves, minced or pressed
8 cups tomato juice or undrained canned
tomatoes pureed in a blender
(or peeled, seeded fresh tomatoes, pureed to equal 8 cups)
1 Tbs Hungarian sweet paprika
1/4 to 1/2 cup red wine or dry sherry (optional)
Croutons (see below)
freshly grated Parmesan cheese
chopped fresh parsley

Saute the garlic in the olive oil very briefly, taking care not to brown it. Stir in the paprika and saute for another minute, stirring continuously, and taking care that it doesn't scorch. Stir in the tomato juice and heat. Add the wine. Simmer 5 to 10 minutes. Garnish with croutons, freshly grated Parmesan cheese and chopped fresh parsley.

Mediterranean: Add garbanzo beans and garnish with shredded feta cheese and chopped fresh parsley.
Mexican: Add Tabasco sauce and garnish with shredded cheddar cheese and tortilla chips.

Note: obviously, the simplicity of the soup allows for endless variations, you could substitute cilantro for the parsley and add a little corn to the Mexican variation...a sprig of fresh basil would be lovely in the original version, then substitute fresh Romano for the cheese.

Great way to use day old (or more) bread: Cube bread or cut into shapes. Spread cubes on a baking sheet, bake in preheated 350 degree oven for 10 or 15 minutes. In a small saucepan, saute pressed or very finely minced garlic in butter over medium low heat with a sprinkling of herbs - basil, oregano, parsley, thyme, marjoram, whatever. Do not let the garlic brown. Toss baked bread cubes with herb butter till well coated. Store in airtight container up to 2 weeks (in the fridge). You can also brush the unbaked bread with a mixture of butter or olive oil, or a mixture of 1/2 butter, 1/2 olive oil, along with the minced garlic and herbs, then bake as outlined above. You can also sprinkle a little grated Romano on the croutons before baking...makes lovely little cheese toasts.