As the years pass, I am coming more and more to understand that it is the common, everyday blessings of our common everyday lives for which we should be particularly grateful. They are the things that fill our lives with comfort and our hearts with gladness - just the pure air to breathe and the strength to breath it; just warmth and shelter and home folks; just plain food that gives us strength; the bright sunshine on a cold day; and a cool breeze when the day is warm.
~ Laura Ingalls Wilder
Over dinner a while back, the conversation turned to guilty pleasures, of the food variety. Seeing as I was sitting with other food writers, it was a little dicey...do I tell them the truth? Do I tell them what has, on occasion, brought me great joy and comfort? Do I spill the beans about my fondness for....Cheez Whiz? I did and no one shunned me for the rest of the night, as everyone else listed something sinfully similar. But it's true. A jar of the orange stuff has been known to find its way into my fridge every couple of years, if I see it's on sale. (I like a good bargain.) But before you lose all respect for me, be assured I don't spread it on celery or toss it on hot macaroni. No, the only way I eat it is on hot, heavily buttered toast, as a bedtime snack while I'm in my pajamas and slippers and something trashy is on the television and maybe I have PMS. Something about this cheezy toast makes me happy - it was a favourite when I was a kid and my mom would even pack it in my brown-bagged lunch, where it was devoured in the noisy lunchroom at noon. Maybe I like that it takes me back to simpler days, when my glasses were big and I had a crush on Scott Baio; when I would rush home from school and watch Little House on the Prairie, then afterwards join my siblings around the dinner table, where we'd dish the details of our day and my mom would dish out hot, delicious food. Those days are so long ago, but somehow a little processed cheese takes me back there.
So the best partner ever for cheesy toast is tomato soup. I finally got around to using up my summer bounty of San Marzano tomatoes - hooray! I know you're jealous of my slippers, but they are a crucial part of my winter attire, seeing as I live in a cold house in an even colder province.
The temperatures have been sliding and snow is on the ground and all I want is soup in my belly. I put these on a pan, with hunks of garlic and onion, the last of my thyme, coarse salt, pepper and gave it good drizzle with olive oil. They roasted away for 40 minutes or so, and my house smelled glorious.
When nice and soft and a little charred, the tomatoes were placed in my favourite bargain of the year (Le Creuset for $10!) and simmered with a bit of butter and broth.
Use an immersion blender to puree soup until smooth, then you can strain out the seeds and skins through a fine mesh sieve or just eat as is - it's fibre, right? Finely shred some fresh basil, stir in a little cream and adjust the seasonings. The finishing touch requires a grilled cheese sandwich. You know how to do that, right? Don't worry, I didn't use Cheez Whiz (but I won't judge if you do) instead I opted for a lovely smoked cheddar on sourdough. Slice the sandwich into little cubes and place on top of the steaming bowls of goodness. This soup is uncomplicated comfort fare. It's creamy - bursting with good tomato and garlic flavour and the basil makes it utterly delicious. A spoonful of soup and cheesy crouton sometimes makes my day complete. Now that I've told you my dirty little secret - what about you? What is your guilty culinary pleasure?
Roasted Tomato Soup with Grilled Cheese Croutons
I used San Marzano tomatoes, just because that's what I had on hand. Feel free to substitute Roma tomatoes. The whipping cream is optional; it just adds another layer of lusciousness. Make whatever grilled cheese croutons you like - brie, Havarti, Gouda, the choices are endless.
12 cups of fresh Roma tomatoes, cut in half
1 medium onion, cut into quarters
4 large cloves of garlic, smashed
coarse salt, pepper
sprigs of fresh thyme or rosemary
4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil,
2 tbsp butter
3 cups of chicken or vegetable broth
1 tbsp honey
handful fresh basil, finely shredded
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup whipping cream
grilled cheese sandwich fixings - your favourite cheese and bread and some butter. One large sandwich is enough for croutons on 2-3 bowls of soup, depending on how many croutons you want.
Line 2 bakesheets with parchment. Spread the tomatoes onto the sheets and add onion and garlic to both. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, fresh thyme or rosemary. Drizzle with olive oil and place in preheated 400*F oven. Roast for about 40 minutes, stirring a few times. Slide the tomatoes into your favourite soup pot. Add the butter and stock, bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes. Stir in honey. Use an immersion blender or regular blender to puree - be careful, hot liquid! Strain the soup through a fine mesh sieve into another pot to get rid of the skins and seeds, if that bothers you. Add the fresh basil and cream, adjust the salt and pepper, keep soup on low, to warm through.
Make your grilled cheese sandwiches, cut into cubes and garnish the soup. Serves 4-6.