Saturday, September 17, 2011

Roasted Tomato Basil Soup + Gruyere and Caramelized Onion Grilled Cheese

No matter how old you are, there is something unbelievably comforting about a bowl of warm tomato basil soup and biting into a gooey, crusty grilled cheese sandwich. Lately I have been craving the perfect pairing of tomato soup and grilled cheese from my beloved Fox & Obel in Chicago. It was truly my ultimate comfort food, keeping me warm on many chilly winter nights in Chicago and offering great comfort during long nights of problem sets, studying for qualifying exams and writing my dissertation.

Recently I found myself with over five pounds of beautiful, ripe heirloom tomatoes between my CSA box and several coworkers sharing their bumper crop of tomatoes. The very thought of enjoying the luscious, juicy summer treat puts a little skip in my step. A quick salad course consists of heirloom tomato salad with burrata or simply dressing thick slices of heirloom tomatoes with olive oil and lemon juice, a sprinkling of flaked sea salt and cracked black pepper, and chopped basil (or oregano or mint or parsley). Something a little more involved but showcasing summer flavors is a Tuscan bread salad, or panzanella.

But as the end of tomato season approaches, I wanted a way to savor the beautiful tomatoes all year. I decided to use all of the tomatoes in a roasted tomato soup and store extra in the freezer to enjoy the summer goodness over the coming months. Best idea ever, right?

Of course, good tomato soup without grilled cheese sandwich is like salsa without chips. And so I slathered dijon on thick slices of sourdough bread, topped it with nutty, aged gruyere and caramelized onions, and heated up the grill pan and panini press. What a perfect combination of gooey, nutty, aged gruyere, sweet onions and tangy dijon surrounded by bread that is crisp, crunchy on the outside and still chewy on the inside.

But, instead, we ate it all. That's right, my brilliant plan to make extra soup to enjoy in the remaining-tomato-less months of the year completely failed. Let's just hope I get another bumper crop of heirloom tomatoes in the last weeks of summer.

Roasted Tomato Basil Soup (Adapted from Ina Garten)
3 lbs peak season tomatoes (I used a mix of heirloom tomatoes)
1 large yellow onion, diced (about 2 cups)
6 cloves of garlic
1/4 cup olive oil
kosher salt
red chili flakes
2 cups loosely packed fresh basil
a few sprigs of thyme
1 tbsp butter
1 qt vegetable stock
28 oz San Marzano whole tomatoes

Preheat the oven to 400. Toss together the tomatoes, 1/4 cup olive oil, salt, and pepper. Spread the tomatoes in 1 layer on a baking sheet and roast for 45 minutes.

In an 8-quart stockpot over medium heat, saute the onions and garlic with 2 tbsp of olive oil, the butter, and red pepper flakes for 10 minutes, until the onions start to brown. Add the canned tomatoes, basil, thyme, and stock. Add the oven-roasted tomatoes, including the liquid on the baking sheet. Bring to a boil and simmer uncovered for 40 minutes. Use a hand held immersion blender to coarsely puree the soup. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed.

Gruyere and Caramelized Onion Grilled Cheese
1/2 sweet onions (like Vidalia), thinly sliced lengthwise
2 tbsp butter
4 oz aged gruyere, coarsely shredded or sliced
4 thick slices of sourdough or any other bread, about 1/2 inch thick slices

In a medium skillet, add 1 tbsp butter and 1 tbsp olive oil and melt over medium heat. Add sliced onion, cover and cook over high heat, until softened about 5-7 min, stirring occasionally. Remove cover and continue cooking over medium heat, until tender and caramelized, about 20-25 min longer, adding water 2 tbsp at a time as needed to prevent burning. Season with salt and pepper and set aside.

Preheat grill or panini press. Butter one side of the sliced bread with the remaining butter. Evenly spread a thin layer of dijon on the other side. Top half of the slices with caramelized onion and Gruyere and close the sandwiches. Grill sandwich until bread is toasted and cheese is gooey.

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