Thursday, January 3, 2013

Comfort Food: Creamy Tomato Soup with Balsamic, Onions, & Garlic, plus Grilled Cheese Sandwiches

Now that the fun and craziness of the holidays are over, I thought it might be good to have some comfort food one night for dinner. What better way to unwind than to curl up on the couch with something warm and familiar…I mean other than with my husband?

While I normally would first think of some dish that contained BACON to provide comfort, I decided to save that treat for another dish. Instead, I decided to go somewhat old school with tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches. But this isn’t your mama’s tomato soup. This is tomato soup with some attitude, because it’s made with wonderful things like balsamic vinegar, caramelized tomatoes, onions, and garlic, not to mention some creaminess added at the end. In a word: lovely.

But before going into all the steps involved with making the soup, I think it’s important to mention that instead of using fresh tomatoes (like I did), it’s perfectly okay to used canned, whole tomatoes. The reason I didn’t is that finding canned, whole tomatoes here in Corozal is sometimes like trying to find hens’ teeth. And while I have been able to score occasional 14 ounce cans, I haven’t seen any 28-ounce cans. Yes, even as a math dufus I realize that two 14-ounce cans would equal one 28-ounce can, but when I can get over two pounds of fresh tomatoes for the price of one 14-ounce can, well, I’m going to take the little bit of extra time to use the fresh stuff.  But hey, it’s entirely up to you on what you want to do.

Ahem…so let’s get started. Here are the tomatoes I picked up at the market. It’s sometimes hard to find Roma tomatoes, so when I spied these, I took it as a sign of goodness.

Having made this soup before, I found that the taste and texture of the tomatoes really comes out if you remove the skins. So, I needed to blanch ‘em. I put a pan of water on a slow simmer and cut an “X” in the bottom of each tomato.

When the water came to a steady simmer, I dropped the tomatoes in for about 15 seconds. You can tell when they’re ready when the skin around the “X” mark starts to shrink a bit. After fishing them out of the water, I placed them in a colander to drain and cool. (Hint: take the time to do this step, as I once almost gave my fingers first-degree burns trying to peel off screaming hot skins. Don’t be an idiot like me.) You can also drop the blanched tomatoes into an ice bath for a minute to speed the cooling process. Unfortunately, we were low on ice and realized if I used what we had for the tomatoes, there wouldn’t be enough ready for vodka and tonics later. The drinks won out. Go figure.

Anyhow, once I pulled off all the skins, the tomatoes were placed on an oiled baking sheet. I then added about a cup of roughly chopped onion. I whacked four large garlic cloves to remove their paper skins, and added them to the sheet.

Then it was time to add some real goodness. In a small mixing bowl, I combined:

  • ½ cup of beef stock
  • 1 Tablespoon brown sugar
  • 3 Tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 1 Tablespoon of soy sauce

Quick tip: to get the sugar to fully dissolve, add it to the vinegar first. Once dissolved, then add the rest of the liquids.

The liquid was then poured over the tomatoes, onions, and garlic. I placed the sheet in a pre-heated 500 degree oven and let them cook away for about 40 minutes. You want everything to become brown and the liquid to be kinda’ syrup-like.

When the tomatoes were done, I let the pan cool just a bit, then scraped everything into a blender and let it puree for just a bit.

Now this is one of those steps that you can do to your liking. We happen to like our soup a bit on the chunky side. But if you prefer a smoother consistency, let it puree longer. And if you’re really a stickler for smooth soup, you could then strain it before putting it in the saucepan.

Once the pureed soup was placed in a saucepan (still being a dufus, I forgot to take a picture), I warmed it over low heat and added the creamy bit. In a perfect world, I would add about ¾ cup of heavy cream or half-and-half. As I can’t get either of them here, I improvised by using some crema that was thinned out a touch with some milk.

With the soup warming up, I turned my attention to its dining partner – the grilled cheese sandwiches. All I did was schmear some arugula pesto(ish) I had in the fridge on slices of bread, then sliced up some cheddar cheese to put on top. Simply slap the top piece of bread on top, grill it up and you’re good to go. (Full disclosure: I really, really thought about adding bacon, but resisted as I needed what I had in the fridge for a meatloaf dish I planned to make in another day or so. Clearly, I need to stock up on my pork fat supply on my next shopping trip.)

I added some chopped cilantro as a garnish for the soup, which added a nice little kick. The flavors of all those caramelized bits come together in a smooth way, with no one flavor overwhelming another. It was the perfect partner to the gooey grilled cheese.

Ahhh, comfort on a plate and in a bowl.

1 comment:

  1. Great idea caramelizing in the oven! I've found if the tomatoes are particularly juicy it's mostly water and best to squeeze it out first.