Lest you think I spend any part of my days doing Important Things — preparing, and totally not at the last second or haphazardly, for my only child’s second birthday, or for his first week of pre-preschool; assembling warm, wholesome meals for his lunch each day; meeting my manuscript deadline; dealing with the shoe bomb that went off in my closet, etc. — it’s only fair and honest that I tell you that I’ve spent a significant portion of the last year considering ways to merge grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup in a single vessel.
In a way, though, it relates to all of those things (well, not the shoes). There’s something very back-to-school-ish about tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches, and because it’s still September, if you’re lucky, you can still get some tomatoes worth eating, and if not that, at least worth cooking down. In my imagined intersections of grilled cheese and tomato soup, I dreamed of grilled cheese croutons in one-inch rounds but rejected it for being overly precious. I considered grilled cheese bread bowls, but never worked out the logistics. But it was when I revisited the ne plus ultra combination of cheese and soup — French Onion Soup — this past spring that I knew unequivocally that the very best solution would be to simply broil an open-faced grilled cheese sandwich on top of a bowl of tomato soup. The only thing left to do was to wait (and wait, and wait) for the slim overlap of tomato season, soup season and a gloomy, rainy week. And that, my friends, brings us to today.
I remember not too long ago explaining all of the many reasons we believed we were not Soup People — the monotony of every spoonful tasting like the one before, the way so many of them carried this boiled limp vegetables smell to them and the fact that a good lot of them were oversalted to compensate for flavor shortages or veritable bombs of heavy cream to make up for lack of body — but the funniest thing happened right after that: we became them. Suddenly, we had the tiniest perspective shift and soup was not the enemy, it was our savior. It was something I could put up a big pot of a couple times a week and ensure us healthy meals that reheated perfectly. Nevertheless, I can’t say we’ve ever reviewed our dinner options recently and said, “Yay! Three day old split pea soup!” or “Sunday’s Tuscan white beans!” (We’re converted, but perhaps not reformed.) But day-old soup with a broiled cheddar cheese lid? I absolutely cannot wait until dinner tonight.
I loosely adapted the tomato soup part from an old Bon Appetit recipe, although more than quartering the oil, using less stock, no rosemary, roasting rather than sauteeing the garlic cloves and of course opening up a grilled cheese sandwich and broiling it on top. I think if the recipe could talk, it would forgive me.
Oh and by the way (new note, January 2018): Just wanted to note that in my second cookbook, Smitten Kitchen Every Day, I have an updated version of this soup with canned tomatoes, since we eat it so often in the winter, when the fresh tomatoes are underwhelming.
Serves 4 (though closer to 6 if served in mugs)
3 pounds plum tomatoes, halved lengthwise
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 large or 4 small cloves garlic, unpeeled
1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh thyme leaves or 1/4 teaspoon dried
1/4 teaspoon (or more to taste) dried crushed red pepper
4 cups chicken or vegetable stock
4 1-inch slices from a large loaf of rye bread, whole wheat sourdough or bread of your choice (or 16 1-inch slices from a baguette), toasted until hard and lightly buttered on one side
1 tablespoon grated raw onion
1 cup coarsely grated cheddar (or more to taste)
Make soup: Preheat oven to 400°F. Wrap garlic cloves in a tight foil packet. Place tomatoes, cut side up, on large baking sheet. Sprinkle generously with salt and pepper (I used 1 full teaspoon of Kosher salt). Drizzle tomatoes with olive oil. Add foil packet of garlic to tray. Roast until tomatoes are brown and tender (garlic will be very tender), about 1 hour. Cool slightly.
Unwrap garlic packet and peel cloves. Transfer cloves, tomatoes and any accumulated juices to a blender or food processor and pulse machine on and off until tomatoes are a chunky puree. Transfer tomatoes to medium pot and add thyme, crushed red pepper and stock and bring to a boil Reduce heat to a simmer and cook, uncovered, for 25 minutes. Remove from heat and adjust seasonings to taste.
Create cheddar lid: Preheat oven to 350. Arrange four ovenproof soup bowls, crocks or large mugs on a large, foil-lined baking sheet. Stir grated onion into the warm soup. (I love this last-minute suggestion of onion.) Float toast slice(s) in each bowl, buttered side up and divide grated cheese generously over top. (If you’re using a wide bowl, you might find that you want more cheese to create a thick, broiled lid.) Bake soups on tray for 15 to 20 minutes, until cheese on top is bubbling and brown at the edges. If you’d like it even more bronzed on top, preheat your broiler and finish soups for a minute or two under it. Serve immediately.
Do ahead: Soup can be prepared one day ahead, and kept covered in the fridge. Rewarm before serving, or before finishing with cheddar crouton.