Sometimes you just want something for dinner that makes you feel good. Not because it’s necessarily good for you, but because you associate it with comfort, with home, with family.
One of the dishes that evokes those feelings for me is tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches. Granted, when I was growing up it was a 59-cent can of condensed tomato soup and a grilled cheese sandwich made with American cheese. And believe you me, those items certainly have their time and their place, especially when you’re raising a child on the limited budget of a single working mother (which was the case in my childhood home).
Now that I’m grown, though, and raising my own children, I want to try to take my childhood favorites and elevate them slightly by using fresh ingredients to replicate those familiar flavors.
The thing about most canned tomato soup is that it’s slightly sweet – really kind of reminiscent of ketchup. I always have to add salt or cheese to help balance that sweetness. When you make your own, you can control the ingredients that go into it, thereby controlling the sweet/savory balance from the get-go. And while it’s not as simple as opening a can, dumping it in a pot and adding water, it actually only takes three or four steps to get from raw ingredients to homemade tomato soup. And it’s good – really, really good. Especially when you dip grilled extra-sharp cheddar cheese soldiers in it. YUM.
Roasted Tomato Soup
prep time – 5 minutes
cook time – 30-45 minutes
serves – 4-6
4 lbs. roma tomatoes
1 head garlic
1 small yellow onion
2 Tablespoons olive oil
2 cups chicken stock
salt and pepper to taste
fresh basil to garnish
Since it is the end of tomato season, and we can no longer really get good quality fresh local tomatoes, I chose to buy roma tomatoes and roast them to concentrate their flavor. I also roasted a head of garlic and an onion. Just cut the tomatoes in half, remove the top from the head of garlic, peel the onion and cut it in half and place it all on a baking sheet lined with foil. Drizzle everything with a liberal amount of olive oil, salt and pepper and roast at 425F for 25-30 minutes. Once the tomatoes were roasted and charred, their skins peeled right off.
I cut the stem end off, scraped out most of the seeds, and added them to a 4-quart saucepan that already had about two cups of chicken stock in the bottom. I roughly chopped the roasted onion, and squeezed the roasted garlic right into the mix. All of this I placed on a burner over medium heat and brought to a simmer. Using a stick blender, I pureed it until it was smooth, tasted for seasoning, and added a little bit of salt and pepper.
It had so much more flavor and texture than your typical canned tomato soup, and any sweetness it had resulted from the caramelization of the vegetables during roasting. This was balanced nicely by the acidity of the tomatoes and the seasoning. The roasted garlic gave a nice mellow note that lingered in the background, allowing the tomatoes to really shine. And the onions added some depth to the whole thing, as they are wont to do.
Garnished with some fresh basil, and served alongside grilled cheese sandwiches made on hearty nine-grain bread with good exra-sharp cheddar, this was my childhood favorite taken to a whole new level. I encourage you to reinvent your own comfort foods. You might be surprised how much more comforting they are when you know where they’ve come from.