Sunday, January 24, 2010

Back in the groove – (Cream of Tomato Basil Soup with Grilled Cheese Croutons)

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.

But baby I’m back! And I'm looking forward to posting on a regular basis again, and sharing some new recipes.

If you’ve seen the news, you’ll know it’s been a bit chilly here.  The last week of December and the first couple of weeks of January were particularly ridiculous.  I’m all for the changing of the seasons, but when CurveBall goes out on the screen porch for a drink of water and her little Scottish Terrier beard freezes before she gets back inside, it’s too freakin’ cold for this SoCal born and raised girl. 


The chilly weather has led to a new collection of scarves and gloves, and an appreciation for the art of "layering" without looking like the Michelin Man! 

The chilly weather has also prompted a number of new tummy warming favorites and the tomato soup below is one of them. It combines two favorites – tomato soup and grilled chesses sandwiches – into comfort food bliss.  Pair with a crisp white wine and a salad and it makes a great dinner.  Leftovers reheat nicely in the microwave for lunch.

Enjoy.


Cream of Tomato Basil Soup with Grilled Cheese Croutons
 Makes 4 - 6 dinner-size servings

Cream of Tomato Basil Soup Ingredients

  • 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)
  • 1 box chicken broth
  • 2 carrots, diced
  • 1 yellow onion, diced
  • 2 ribs celery, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
  • 2 Tbs tomato paste (from a tube or can; if you use the latter, freeze the extra in a small storage bag and you can let thaw out a little and cut off what you need in the future.
  • 2 Tbs olive oil
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 cup basil, chopped
  • ¾ cup cream or half-and-half (optional). This makes it really yummy, but if you are looking for a lower fat soup, leave it out.
  • Parmesan cheese to garnish (optional)
  • Extra chopped basil to garnish


Method

  • In a large saucepan or medium sized stock pot:
  • Sauté the onion, carrots and celery until soft, add a hearty pinch of salt and a few grinds of the pepper, plus the garlic and continue sautéing 3 more minutes. 
  • Add tomato paste; stir and continue sautéing 3 more minutes
  • Now add the canned tomatoes (with juice) and broth; mash down gently with a potato masher or slotted spoon to break them up (or put them in a bowl first and squish with clean hands)
  • Add ½ of the basil, and the bay leaf, bring to boil and then reduce heat to low simmer. 
  • Cook over medium-low heat for 30 minutes, uncovered
  • Remove from the heat and cool slightly (about 5 - 10 minutes)
  • Puree mixture with a hand blender or food processor or stand-up blender until smooth. If using a food processor or stand-up blender, do the soup in batches and then return the mixture to the pot (and remember hot liquids expand in the FP or blender – so don’t over load the machine or you’ll be wearing the soup!)
  • Add cream or half-and-half (if you are using it) and remainder of basil; stir and adjust salt and pepper to taste.

Grilled Cheese Croutons Ingredients

  • 6 slices Farmer’s Bread (Whole Foods) or other hearty bread such as regular or whole wheat sour dough; cut into about ½ inch slices
  • ¼ pound sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
  • ¼ pound smoked mozzarella, shredded
  • 1 Tbs basil, minced
  • 2 Tbs Olive Oil
  • Kosher Salt and Cracked Black Pepper

 Method

  • Heat a non-stick skillet or grill pan until hot
  • Pour the olive oil into a bowl and brush one side of the bread slices with it, sprinkle with the salt and pepper
  • With the oiled side down, divide the cheeses among each slice of bread
  • Top the cheese with the basil
  • Place a second slice of bread on top, oiled side up
  • Place the sandwiches on the grill pan on skillet; squish them down with a spatula and then leave them alone. Slower cooking is better here
  • Cook until the bread is toasty, flip, squish and cook until the new side is toasty
  • When both sides are toasty and the cheese is melty, remove the sandwiches and let them set for 3 – 4 minutes
  • With a serrated knife, cut the sandwiches into crouton-sized pieces – bout 1 inch squares. 

To Serve
Ladle the soup into a bowl, scatter a few of the croutons on top and dust with a bit of grated Parmesan cheese.