Simple Tomato Soup with Grilled Cheese Croutons

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Tomato soup is one of my favorites — so simple yet so delicious. And with the crazy April winter weather today (30 degrees? What?), this seemed about right. This version of the classic is particularly simple — you use canned (San Marzano) tomatoes, onion, garlic and stock, flavored with some saffron and toss in some orzo. The recipe doesn’t even call for pureeing it, though I did choose to do that since I like the creamy texture. Then, Ina Garten makes a genius move and turns the traditional grilled cheese pairing into — wait for it — grilled cheese croutons. Yes. It’s the perfect combo.

TW’s Tips

  • I had some grape tomatoes hanging around that I wasn’t sure I’d use, so I roasted them in a 400 degree oven for 40 minutes and added them to the mix
  • I used an immersion blender to cream the mixture a bit before I added the cream — I like a silkier texture to the soup.
  • The grilled cheese croutons are awesome but add them gradually as you eat if you don’t like the grilled cheese too soggy.
  • If you don’t have a panini grill (I don’t) just use a frying pan for the grilled cheese, or a grill pan.

Enjoy!

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Simple Tomato Soup with Grilled Cheese Croutons

Ingredients

  • 3 tablespoons good olive oil
  • 3 cups yellow onions, chopped (2 onions)
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic (3 cloves)
  • 4 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade
  • 1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes, preferably San Marzano
  • Large pinch of saffron threads
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup orzo
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • Grilled Cheese Croutons (see below)

Directions
In a large pot or Dutch oven such as Le Creuset, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onions and cook over medium-low heat for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until golden brown. Add the garlic and cook for 1 more minute. Stir in the chicken stock, tomatoes, saffron, 1 tablespoon salt and 1 teaspoon pepper. Bring the soup to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, fill a medium pot with water, add 2 teaspoons salt and bring to a boil. Add the orzo and cook for 7 minutes. (It will finish cooking in the soup.) Drain the orzo and add it to the soup. Stir in the cream, return the soup to a simmer and cook for 10 more minutes, stirring frequently.

Serve hot with Grilled Cheese Croutons scattered on top.

Grilled Cheese Croutons

Ingredients

  • 4 (1/2-inch-thick) slices country white bread
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • 4 ounces Gruyere cheese, grated

Directions

Heat a panini grill. Place the four slices of bread on a cutting board and brush lightly with the melted butter, being sure to butter the corners. Turn the slices over and pile Gruyere on two of the slices. Place the remaining two slices of bread on top of the Gruyere, buttered sides up.

Grill the sandwiches on the panini grill for about 5 minutes, until nicely browned. Place on a cutting board, allow to rest for 1 minute and cut into 1-inch cubes.

 

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Pappa al Pomodoro, aka Amazing Italian Tomato Soup

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It’s been a rainy few days in San Diego, which doesn’t happen too often. I won’t complain, though — the variety is nice, actually — and regardless, it’s the perfect weather for a nice, warm bowl of soup, which I took advantage of with this awesome pappa al pomodoro. This is a classic Italian recipe — Tuscan to be exact — and was traditionally a way to get rid of that stale bread Italians tend to have hanging around. As you can expect from a classic Italian dish, the flavors are simple but delicious. You’ve got ripe tomatoes (in this case canned San Marzano), onion, carrot, garlic, fennel, basil and red wine, all mixed in with cubes of bread that break down and thicken it up a bit. This version by Barefoot Contessa incorporates a topping that absolutely nailed it for me — toasted bread (basically fresh croutons), pancetta and basil leaves baked in a hot oven and then sprinkled on top. It’s a great crunch with salt from the pancetta and the crispy basil leaves. Awesome.

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I made this with some of the homemade chicken stock I made the other day, which really made a big difference. It’s so nice to be able to control the salt, and I barely had to add any to this! It was so warm and hearty, and the perfect thing for a rainy night. Serve with a salad or a baguette.

TW’s Tips

  • I splurged on San Marzano tomatoes instead of the regular or store brand. I have to say, it was awesome and much sweeter than you would get from the run-of-the-mill brand.
  • I highly recommend pancetta for the topping — bacon as a replacement just won’t cut it.
  • Barefoot Contessa calls for whisking this before serving — personally, I wasn’t a big fan, particularly of the chunks of carrot. So, I just stuck it in the food processor and smoothed it out a bit. Perfect.
  • This makes a lot — as usual, I froze some, which will definitely take me through at least six more servings.

Pappa al Pomodoro

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup good olive oil
  • 2 cups chopped yellow onion (2 onions)
  • 1 cup medium-diced carrots, unpeeled (3 carrots)
  • 1 fennel bulb, trimmed, cored, and medium-diced (1 1/2 cups)
  • 4 teaspoons minced garlic (4 cloves)
  • 3 cups (1-inch) diced ciabatta cubes, crusts removed
  • 2 (28-ounce) cans good Italian plum tomatoes
  • 4 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade
  • 1/2 cup dry red wine
  • 1 cup chopped fresh basil leaves
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan

For the topping:

  • 3 cups (1-inch) diced ciabatta cubes
  • 2 ounces thickly sliced pancetta, chopped
  • 24 to 30 whole fresh basil leaves
  • 3 tablespoons good olive oil, plus more for serving
  • Salt and pepper

Directions

Heat the oil in a large stockpot over medium heat. Add the onions, carrots, fennel, and garlic and cook over medium-low heat for 10 minutes, until tender. Add the ciabatta cubes and cook for 5 more minutes. Place the tomatoes in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade and process just until coarsely chopped. Add the tomatoes to the pot along with the chicken stock, red wine, basil, 1 tablespoon salt, and 1 1/2 teaspoons pepper. Bring the soup to a boil, lower the heat, and allow to simmer, partially covered, for 45 minutes.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

For the topping, place the ciabatta cubes, pancetta, and basil on a sheet pan large enough to hold them in a single layer. Drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and toss well. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 20 to 25 minutes, until all the ingredients are crisp. The basil leaves will turn dark and crisp, which is perfectly fine. Reheat the soup, if necessary, beat with a wire whisk until the bread is broken up. Stir in the Parmesan and taste for seasoning. Serve hot sprinkled with the topping and drizzled with additional olive oil.

Smoked Gouda and Basil Pesto Grilled Cheese and Creamy Tomato Soup

It’s been a rainy — dare I say stormy? — weekend in San Diego, and this soup/sandwich combo was the perfect curl-up-on-the-couch comfort meal.

I love me a grilled cheese, and this version by Tyler Florence, from his “Stirring the Pot” cookbook, is pretty amazing. He calls for smoked mozzarella, which I substituted with smoked gouda, layered with a delicious traditional pesto, sandwiched between bread toasted up with butter in a pan. The nice, crispy crust on the bread, plus the smoky, oozy cheese with the contrast from the fresh pesto — it’s basically my perfect sandwich.

And what better than to dip this delicious sandwich in creamy tomato soup?

I’ve never been a fan of the canned tomato soup. In fact, I didn’t even think I liked tomato soup until I tried a real, homemade one. What a discovery! This one by Rachael Ray is possibly the easiest one I’ve ever made. Big winner. It’s simple but has great flavor.

TW’s Tips

  • I used a yummy gourmet bread (I think it was sundried tomato/spinach or something) instead of plain white bread
  • Make extra pesto and use it later in the week for ravioli or put it on top of some salmon. Yum.
  • Dip the sandwich in the soup as you eat it. Obviously.

Smoked Gouda and Basil Pesto Grilled Cheese

Ingredients

  • 4 slices white sandwich bread
  • 4 slices smoked mozzarella (I used gouda)
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • Freshly ground black pepper

Pesto:

  • 2 cups fresh basil
  • 1 cup fresh Italian parsley
  • 1/2 cup Parmigiano Reggiano
  • 1/2 cup pine nuts, toasted
  • 3 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Directions

To make pesto combine pesto ingredients in a food processor and pulse until well combined but still has a rough texture.

Assemble sandwich by smearing insides of bread slices with pesto.  Arrange a layer of mozzarella and season with a few turns of fresh pepper.  Layer the mozzarella slices over the top and then place the bread over to make the sandwich.  Set a large sauté pan over medium heat and add butter.  Add sandwich and cook 2-3 minutes per side until golden brown and crispy.  Remove from pan and rub toasted bread with garlic.

Creamy Tomato Soup

Ingredients

  • 2 (15-ounce) containers, chicken or vegetable stock/broth (preferred brand: Kitchen Basics)
  • 1 (28-ounce) can concentrated crushed tomatoes
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • Coarse salt and black pepper
  • 20 leaves fresh basil, cut into chiffonade, for garnish

Directions

Combine broth and tomatoes in a medium saucepan over moderate heat. When soup bubbles, stir in heavy cream and reduce heat to low. Season with a little salt and pepper and simmer gently 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. With an immersion blender, puree soup. Serve bowls of soup with basil chiffonade.