Each of us have our own favorite comfort food. Much of it is based on where we grew up, our families, our culture and of course our experiences. When you think of what makes you feel happy and at home, what is it you crave?
I realize school lunches didn’t always include the best stuff. Proving that it’s still happening, there’s even blog posts dedicated to kids trying to decipher what it is they’re eating. I can actually think back to when I wasn’t so biased, and remember the school’s grilled cheese and tomato soup. They were amazingly delicious!!! The grilled cheese was simple- American cheese sandwiched between white bread, perfectly crispy and oozy. The tomato soup was thin, but with enough body to coat each morsel of grilled cheese. It was my favorite! Since many processed foods don’t have a home in my cupboards, I’ve had to find ways to bring that comforting grilled cheese and tomato soup back to my current reality. With that, another recipe was born.
The soup starts with freshly harvested tomatoes out of my garden. They pack way more flavor in them than conventional tomatoes, or even the canned varieties. While this step is tedious, I actually wash, core and score each tomato. I follow up by blanching them in hot water till their skins are loosened and then place them in an ice bath until they’re completely cool. From there, I skin them and remove as much of the seeds as possible making sure I put the seeds in a strainer to gather all their delicious juices.
I’ll admit, the process of getting the tomatoes ready for soup is a huge hassle. Sometimes if you can gather up a group of friends or enlist children it’ll make things easier. For me it’s soothing to go through the motions, so I don’t mind. However, if you’re looking at this recipe and thinking you’ll never touch it unless you can use canned, then by all means grab yourself two large cans of diced tomatoes and get cooking.
Once your tomatoes are ready, it’s a fairly simple process of putting together ingredients to form your base of flavors and just adding on from there.
The grilled cheese croutons come from the idea that you’ll be dunking your sandwich in the soup anyways. It’s a matter of placing your favorite cheese (the ooey gooey melty ones are the best) between two slices of bread. If you’re gluten free you can obviously use whatever kind stands up the best to toasting (I like Udi’s). To get that crispy delicious crunch on your bread, I recommend slathering whatever fits your dietary preferences. I myself prefer room temperature butter for the outside, but you may like margarine or even mayonnaise (you can’t taste it). Once the grilled cheese has crisped on both sides, I’ll remove and place it onto a cutting board. If you’re nimble, you can slice into chunks immediately, otherwise it’s best to let it cool a bit and then cut.
If you want to make more realistic croutons instead of cubed grilled cheese, then you can sprinkle shredded cheese, garlic powder and/or parsley on the cubes while still hot. From there just ladle your soup into bowls, top with grilled cheese croutons and let your imagination take you back happy moments of your childhood.
To full plates and eating your tarte out,
Tomato Bisque with Grilled Cheese Croutons
3-3/12 pounds of freshly picked Tomatoes
1 large Sweet Onion, chopped
1 tablespoon of Olive Oil
12 ounces of Tomato Paste
16 ounces of Vegetable Stock
2 teaspoons of Salt
1/2 teaspoon of ground Nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon of freshly ground Pepper
16 ounces of Half and Half
Salt and Pepper
Grilled Cheese Croutons (below)
Start by preparing a large pot with boiling water and a very large bowl of iced water, mainly ice. Thoroughly wash your tomatoes. Core them and score an x in the bottom of each tomato, repeat. Take each of the tomatoes and blanch in the boiling water, about 30-45 seconds. Remove and set directly into the ice water. Repeat with the entire bunch of tomatoes. Allow tomatoes to cool thoroughly.
Peel the skins off of the tomatoes. Setup a bowl with a fine mesh strainer. Remove the bulk of the seeds over the strainer to reserve the juices. Give the tomatoes a rough chop and place into a large bowl with juices, set aside.
In another large pot, heat olive oil and cook the onions until transparent, about 5-7 minutes. Stir in tomato paste and allow to cool till slightly dried, about 2-3 minutes. Add in tomatoes, vegetable stock, salt, nutmeg and pepper, cover. Simmer about 15-20 minutes on low heat.
Remove from heat and with a hand blender, pulse the soup until creamy. If you don’t have a hand blender, you can use your regular blender in batches with a slightly chilled soup to blend down the soup. Use a strainer over a bowl large enough to hold the soup, and strain to separate out the solids. Discard the solids. If you like thick soup, skip the straining. Add the half and half, stir till completely incorporated.
Garnish with shredded cheese, sour cream and/or fresh basil, followed by grilled cheese croutons.
Note- Be careful not to bring the soup to a boil after adding the Half and Half as the cream will separate and leave you with a speckled soup.
Grilled Cheese Croutons
4 slices of bread
2 tablespoons of butter, room temperature (substitute mayo or margarine if desired)
4 slices of American cheese, Velveeta, Gruyere, Cheddar, Monterey, Colby Jack (or whatever you enjoy)
Heat a skillet over medium heat. Place four slices of bread onto a cutting board. Butter each slice. Place one buttered side onto the hot pan followed by two slices of cheese. Place another slice of bread onto the cheese with the buttered side up. Repeat with the remaining ingredients.
Allow sandwiches to cook for two minutes on each side or until cheese is melted and sandwiches are browned. If desired sprinkle with parmesan cheese, garlic powder and/or chopped parsley. Place onto a cutting board and allow to cool for one minute before cubing and adding to the bisque.