Out with the Cans & Plastic and Back to Recipes: Re-discovering Grilled Cheese and Tomato Soup

grilled white cheddar cheese with a tomato & basil spreadDo you ever have those moments when something completely unrelated triggers a whole different stream of consciousness mental jag? The other night, I was dealing with my fabulous insomnia-ridden brain and came across an interesting documentary titled "Schmatta." It was a combination of oral history of the NY fashion trade and discussion of the ill effects of that trade being moved off-shore by profit-only-driven corporations. If you come across it yourself, I recommend it highly, but that's not the point here.

The underlying theme of pride in workmanship and old-school ways of creating something with your own two hands sent me off on a reverie about ... what else? Food.

There are so many dishes, so many techniques which have fallen mainly to the wayside in the march for culinary progress. Add to that, the things we just don't get around to making anymore because we're busy fussing with the newer, shinier, more exciting. We get enamored with, say, Vietnamese cuisine. While this is not a bad thing, it makes us turn a blinder eye to what we could think of as plain old Chinese. In a lot of ways, we're like the compulsive player, always chasing after the sexier new flavor, seeking new adventure with the mercurial model over the predictable known.

sun-dried tomatoesSo, when I stopped to think about it, if past adventurous new cuisines have a hard time keeping up in our menus, what chance do the old-school classics have to get a fair shake? Sure, we all have our particular favorite num-nums (or NOM NOM NOMs), the comfort foods that say LOVE in our senses and memory. But what about the rest? What about the dishes our Moms didn't make on those cold-ass winter days when we came in frozen to the bone from playing in the snow (or various fond moments of a warmer clime)?

Hell, even in those days, some dishes were already a part of the processed food tableau, disappeared from recipe boxes and into a can, plastic-wrapped pack, or freezer case. A random Twitter post brought the idea straight home to my own personal brand of pre-made lost recipe.

Back in the day, tomato soup came exclusively from a can. I guess that's why I never really developed much of a comfort food crush on it. Lately, with the friendly neighborhood F&E just a short walk away, I rediscovered tomato soup. Only this time, it comes from a plastic container. But it's still chock full of added salt and a dish that could easily be made at home, if only I weren't too charmed by the convenience to just make it myself.

So began the quest to rediscover tomato soup, a good, healthy (and yes ... vegan-friendly) soup from tomatoes instead of a supermarket shelf.

Grilled Cheese (a la Wendy) and Triple-Tomato Basil Soup
Makes 4 sandwiches and generous servings of soup.
**The tomato soup is all kinds of hearty, with bold tomato flavor. If you like a lighter tasting soup, just skip the sun-dried tomatoes.**

triple tomato soup3 lbs. Roma tomatoes, halved and seeded
1 cup (total) sun-dried tomatoes (reduce to 1/2 cup for sandwich spread only if you want lighter soup)
1 cup boiling water
4 cloves garlic
6 TBSP (total) olive oil - leftover sun-dried tomato storage oil is great here!
6 TBSP (total) tomato paste
1 (14.5 oz) can vegetable broth
2/3 cup (total) fresh basil
8 slices sourdough bread
6-8 oz aged white cheddar
granulated garlic
kosher or sea salt

1 - Pre-heat oven to 375º. Set roma tomatoes face-down on baking sheet or pan and cook (they will be in 45 minutes).  
2 - While tomatoes cook, place sun-dried tomatoes in a heat-resistant bowl and cover with boiling water. Allow to stand for 20-30 minutes to reconstitute and reserve water.
3 - In soup pot, heat 3 TBSP oil and add garlic and 1/2 cup sun-dried tomatoes (*), stirring about 2-3 minutes. Add tomato water and 4 TBSP tomato paste and mix well until paste is incorporated. Add broth and 1/3 cup basil and bring just to a boil before lowering to simmer.
4 - In food processor, add balance 1/2 cup of sun-dried tomatoes, 1/3 cup basil, and 3 TBSP oil and pulse until tomatoes are breaking up well. Then add 2 TBSP tomato paste and move from pulse to low to high, stopping often to scrape sides. Reserve for later.
5 - By now, tomatoes should be done (maybe also cooled). Once cooled enough, peel off the skin (which should be nice and loose) and drop tomatoes into the soup pot. Bring back to a boil and lower to simmer for 20 minutes and season with a sprinkle of salt. Remove from heat until cooled enough for the food processor and process on low to high in batches until all is smooth, then return pot to low heat to warm while making sandwiches.
6 - Set skillet or frying pan on burner without heat. Butter outside of bread and sprinkle with granulated garlic, then spread sun-dried tomato paste on the other side and set into the pan. Then lay sliced cheese on top, then another piece of bread, buttered on the outside as first slice. Turn heat to low and turn when browned, removing from heat when cheese is melted.
7 - Serve immediately ... YUM!

Special thanks to Wendy for coming up with such a foodgasmic combination of grilled cheese flavors instead of settling for the plain old thing! Hopefully, we all get a bit more inspired to dig up and resuscitate some good old-fashioned recipes, adding our own flourishes along the way. There are a whole mess of orphan recipes that need a few good homes.

If there's a dish you're curious about or have revised and updated? Let me know. I have a developing list and am always open to suggestions of new food experiments. Now, I'm off to play with my food ... I'll type at you some more next week with a few more recipes.