|Comfort food at its best|
First off, thanks to the friends and followers who have inquired about my intentions to continue doing this blog – no, I’ve not given it up; yes, I’m still cooking on a regular basis; yes I still LOVE North Carolina. I just had a particularly busy late December/early January and aside from work, it took me a while to get back in the groove.
- 2 large cans Cento San Marzano whole tomatoes (Sure you can use any old canned tomatoes, but if you can find Cento or another brand of San Marzano tomatoes, pop the few extra cents and get the good stuff)
- 4 cups (1 box) chicken stock
- 3/4 cup diced carrots (about 2 medium carrots)
- 3/4 cup diced onion (about 1/2 large onion)
- 2 ribs celery, diced
- 2 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed (you can fish this out later if you are not a big garlic fan)
- 2 Tbs tomato paste
- 2 Tbs olive oil
- 1 bay leaf
- 1/2 cup fresh basil, loosely packed, left whole
- 3 TBS chopped fresh basil (about 1/2 cup whole leaf) (chop right before use)
- ¾ cup cream or half-and-half
- Kosher salt
- Fresh ground black pepper
- Sauté the onion, carrots and celery in the olive oil over a low heat until soft (about 2 minutes), add a large teaspoon of Kosher salt and 10 grinds grinds of black pepper, the garlic and tomato paste and continue sautéing 3 more minutes
- Add the canned tomatoes (with juice) and broth and the whole leaf basil; mash down the tomatoes gently with a potato masher or slotted spoon, bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium/low and cook partially covered for 30 minutes.
- Turn off the flame and let cool for 10 minutes.
- Fish out the bay leaf (and garlic, if you desire) and puree the soup mixture with a hand-held stick blender (or in batches in a regular blender of food processor) until smooth.
- Add cream or half-and-half and remainder of basil; stir and adjust salt and pepper to taste. Warm over a low flame if necessary.
- Serve with with Grilled Cheese Dippers (see below)
- 12 slices sliced ciabatta bread
- 12 slices cheddar/jack cheese, cut in half to match the shape of the ciabatta
- 1/4 stick softened butter
- Heat a or grill pan over a high flame until very hot
- Divide the cheese to top half the bread slices, top with the remaining bread slices, smear with the butter and place butter side down on the hot pan
- Lower the heat, cook until crispy and flip, cooking again until the second side is crispy and the cheese is gooey.