Smoky Tomato Soup & Grilled Cheese for Grown Ups
I love comfort food, but rarely do childhood favorites live up to their memories when we eat them as adults. Take tomato soup and grilled cheese for instance. I remember it fondly, but it’s just a microwaved can of soup with a cheese sandwich a drunk college student could cook. To take this classic way beyond its after school snack status I still reach for a can, but now it’s a can of high quality tomatoes and I layer in lots of complex flavors to bring it firmly into adulthood.
I modified this recipe from Naomi Pomeroy’s in her book Taste & Technique. Don’t get me wrong, hers is outstanding, but it’s better suited for restaurant cooking than for home cooks. For one thing, it calls for smoked onions which requires special equipment and a lot of time. You can get the exact same effect from a store-bought ingredient called liquid smoke.
Smoky Tomato Soup Recipe
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, roughly chopped
3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
3 tablespoons tomato paste
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon sugar
28 oz can high quality tomatoes (see note), drained with liquid reserved plus enough water to make 2 cups of liquid
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 cup whole milk
Zest of 1 lemon
1/2 teaspoon fish sauce
1/2 teaspoon liquid smoke (see note)
1/8 teaspoon Tabasco sauce
Heat olive oil in a large pot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add onion and cook until very lightly browned, about 8 to 10 minutes.
Add garlic, tomato paste, smoked paprika, salt, and sugar and cook, stirring frequently until very aromatic, about 3 minutes.
Add tomatoes, reduce heat to medium low and cook until they darken a little, about 15 minutes.
Add the tomato liquid mixture and simmer 20 minutes.
Add soup, cream, milk, and lemon zest to a blender. Adjust lid so steam can escape and/or let cool slightly. Increase speed slowly from low to high then blend for 2 minutes on high. If not using a high-powered blender, pass through a fine mesh sieve for a smoother texture.
Season with fish sauce, liquid smoke, and Tabasco sauce and adjust to taste.
When buying tomatoes, look for high quality brands such as Cento certified San Marzano or Muir Glen San Marzano style. It’s always best to buy whole tomatoes.
When buying liquid smoke be sure to find a brand that lists only two ingredients: water and some form of smoke, such as Wright’s.
Grownup Grilled Cheese Technique
You don’t need a recipe for a grilled cheese sandwich; you need a technique. Here’s mine:
Cut two slices of good quality bread that has a nice open crumb. I love the como bread from Grand Central Bakery. Just spring for something better than plastic-wrapped, presliced sandwich bread. Next, grate equal parts cheddar and mozzarella cheese using the wider setting of your grater. Don’t get stingy, this is the only thing going in this sandwich! Grate enough parmesan cheese to cover both slices of the bread using the fine setting on your grater.
Now press the parmesan cheese firmly into the outer faces of the bread slices. Really pack it in there.
Heat a tablespoon of unsalted butter in large nonstick skillet over medium heat then place both slices of bread, cheese side down, to toast for a minute or two until very lightly browned.
Place the cheddar and mozzarella blend on one slice of bread, top with the other slice then finish browning the first side.
Scrape any escaping cheese back into the sandwich or onto the edges. It should be a little sloppy - this extra crispy cheese will be delicious.
Flip the sandwich and finish browning the second side.