RECIPES AND MORE FROM AN URBAN KITCHEN

Monday, January 9, 2012

Tomato Soup and Grilled Cheese


After a completely insane whirlwind of a work week, all I wanted to do this weekend was cook, browse magazines, spend some quality time with my couch, and watch movies. And that is exactly what I did. On Sunday, while my boyfriend watched the Giants game, I ensconced myself in his kitchen and made that ultimate classic of wintry comfort meals: grilled cheese sandwiches and a batch of steaming hot tomato soup. Perfect food for a football afternoon, I thought.

Inspired by Ruth Reichl's recent article on how to amp up your grilled cheese game, I paid special attention to the little details that can make all the difference. I added a thin swipe of Dijon mustard to the insides of the sandwiches for a touch of pungency, I used good sourdough bread instead of the usual white sandwich bread, I grated Montgomery cheddar so that it would melt more evenly, and I tossed in a handful of thinly sliced scallions to mix in with the cheese. The extra effort was worth it--the sandwiches were better versions of an already-amazing thing.

As for the tomato soup, the recipe is one from my new Cook's Illustrated cookbook, with a good amount of revisions on my end to make it simpler, and it contains the kind of exacting, almost-obsessive detail their recipe developers are notorious for. They handily use canned tomatoes instead of fresh ones (much more appropriate for wintertime), and roast them in a hot oven for 30 minutes to bring out the full flavor. This results in a soup that is a world apart from the Campbell's cream of tomato you inevitably had as a kid. It's hearty and creamy and not too acidic. And with the grilled cheese, it forms an unstoppable combo. Yum. xo

Cream of Tomato Soup
Adapted from Cook's Illustrated, Serves 4
Ingredients:
2 (28-ounce) cans whole tomatoes packed in juice, drained, 3 cups juice reserved
1 1/2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 large shallots, minced (about 1/2 cup)
1 tablespoon tomato paste
Scant pinch ground allspice
2 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 3/4 cups chicken stock, homemade or canned low-sodium
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons brandy or dry sherry
Salt and cayenne pepper 

Directions:
Adjust oven rack to upper-middle position and heat oven to 450 degrees. Line rimmed baking sheet with foil. Spread tomatoes in single layer on foil. Sprinkle evenly with brown sugar. Bake until all liquid has evaporated and tomatoes begin to color, about 30 minutes. Let tomatoes cool slightly, then peel them off foil; transfer to small bowl and set aside.

Heat butter over medium heat in large saucepan until foaming. Add shallots, tomato paste and allspice. Reduce heat to low, cover, and cook, stirring occasionally, until shallots are softened, 7 to 10 minutes. Add flour and cook, stirring constantly, until thoroughly combined, about 30 seconds. Gradually add chicken stock, whisking constantly to combine; stir in reserved tomato juice and roasted tomatoes. Cover, increase heat to medium, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer, stirring occasionally, to blend flavors, about 10 minutes.

Pour mixture into blender and puree until smooth. Place pureed mixture back into saucepan. Add cream and warm over low heat until hot, about 3 minutes. Off heat, stir in brandy and season with salt and cayenne. Serve immediately.


Grilled Cheese Sandwich 
Serves 2  
Ingredients:
4 ounces cheese (preferably mild cheddar) or combination of cheese, grated on large holes of box grater (about 1 cup)
4 slices (1/2 inch-thick) from a good loaf of sourdough
3 tablespoons butter (preferably salted), melted
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons green onion or scallion, finely chopped 

Directions:
Heat heavy 12-inch skillet over low to medium-low heat. Spread melted butter over both sides of all bread slices. Add a gentle swipe of mustard to the inside of the bread slices. It adds a nice layer of flavor, an extra tang.

Mix the grated cheese with a scattering of finely chopped scallion or green onion - whatever you happen to have on hand. Sprinkle a portion of cheese over two bread slices. Top each with a remaining bread slice, pressing down gently to set.

Place each sandwich in skillet. Cook until crisp and deep golden brown, 5 to 10 minutes per side, flipping sandwiches back to first side to reheat and crisp, about 15 seconds. Watch sandwiches carefully, checking often so that the sides don't scorch. Serve immediately.

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