The Healthful Hedonist: Comfort Food for the 21st Century
Tomato Soup and Grilled Cheese Sandwiches
This soup is tangy, smooth and refined, and I love the ease of the grilled cheese method. The only problem is, I can't tell if its sophisticated flavors make me want to go to a Boston museum and then out for drinks, or if its soothingly familiar taste makes me want to crawl under a blanket after eating it. Both are equally appealing.
May your year be like these recipes: filled with both style and comfort.
Spicy Tomato Soup with Crispy Caraway Grilled Cheese
By James Beard Award-winning chef Barbara Lynch
From Barbara: This is one of my favorite soups and when I opened Sportello I put it on the menu. People are always amazed that there is no butter or cream since it's such a velvety soup but the gorgeous texture is due to blending the soup with great olive oil. A hit of pepperoncino adds just enough heat. So easy and so great! If you want to be fancy, serve with the caraway grilled cheese but it's equally delicious all by itself.
For the soup:
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 small onion, sliced
1 1/2 teaspoons crushed red pepper flakes
Two 28-ounce cans of plum tomatoes
1/4 cup fresh basil leaves
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 to 6 tablespoons crème fraîche
For the grilled cheese:
1 stick (4 ounces) unsalted butter, softened at room temperature
Good quality country, French, or Italian bread
1 1/2 tablespoons caraway seeds
1/2 pound Morbier or other good melting cheese, such as Fontina or Mimolette
To make the soup, heat the olive oil in heavy-based saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and red pepper flakes and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are tender, about 7 minutes. Add the tomatoes and 1 1/2 cups water and cook, stirring occasionally, for 30 minutes.
Add the basil, season lightly with salt and pepper and let cool briefly before pureeing the soup in a food processor or with a blender. Pass the soup through a fine mesh strainer—a chinois works best—pressing on the solids. (Save the pulp, if you like; though it has no place in this soup, it's great on crostini or baked eggplant.) Keep the soup on medium-low heat if you plan to serve it right away.
For the grilled cheese, what you need to do is to cut the bread into twelve exceedingly thin slices. We use a meat slicer to slice the bread about 1/4-inch thick. Go ahead and do that if you happen to own one. Otherwise, stick the bread in the freezer while you get everything else ready; it will be easier to slice when firm.
In the meantime, heat a small, dry skillet over medium heat. Add the caraway seeds and toast them, stirring occasionally, until fragrant, about 3 minutes. (It's really easy to burn spices so stick around during this part.) Transfer the seeds to a bowl. Go ahead and melt the butter in the same skillet. Let it cool a bit and then add 1 tablespoon of the toasted caraway seeds to it.
Heat the oven to 400°F. Have ready two heavy half sheet pans of the same size so that one can nestle into the other. Line one with a sheet of parchment paper. Brush the sheet with an ample amount of the caraway butter. Brush a second piece of parchment paper with the butter and keep
it out of your way for now. Using a serrated knife, slice the bread as thinly as you can without the bread falling apart. We slice them long enough so that we can serve the soup with a grilled cheese balanced across the soup bowl's edges, 5 or 6 inches. (Obviously, you can serve the grilled cheese alongside the bowls,
Slice the cheese thinly, too. (How thin is not as crucial here as the cheese melts so thoroughly that it practically disappears into the bread.) Cover six bread slices completely with a single layer of cheese and then top with another slice of bread to make sandwiches. Put the sandwiches on the prepared sheet pan leaving some space between them. Top the sandwiches with the second buttered parchment paper, butter side down. Stack the
second sheet pan on top of the first; this will cook the sandwiches on both sides without the need to flip them and will also flatten them a bit. Bake until the sandwiches are golden brown and crispy, 15 to 20 minutes. Carefully peel away the top layer of parchment, transfer the sandwiches to a cooling rack and serve warm or at room temperature. If there are any ragged bits of baked cheese hanging off the sandwiches, just trim them off by hand; you'll want to eat these, so go ahead.
To serve, divide the hot soup among six warm bowls. Float a dollop of crème fraîche (or a quenelle if you're feeling fancy) on top of the soup, if you like, and garnish with some of the reserved toasted caraway seeds. Position a grilled cheese across the top of the bowl, if it fits without falling in, and serve.