I must start this post by saying that I love canned tomatoes – they’re a great pantry staple and I always have a couple of cans around. But even though I use them to make tomato sauce all the time I wasn’t very fond of the idea of using them to make soup – for absolute no reason, since I’d never tried canned tomato soup in my life. For a moment I thought “Oh my goodness, I’m becoming my husband!” – the one who hates food without even tasting it first – and that, my friends, is NOT going to happen. :)
So I made the soup, tried it and felt like a fool for avoiding it for so long – it tasted really good and comforting. But the addictive component of this meal is the grilled cheese: my two favorite things in the savory world, bread and cheese, heavenly combined in a crunchy, delicious way. I’m in eternal debt with Barbara Lynch. :D
Spicy tomato soup with crispy grilled cheese
adapted from the beautiful and very well written Stir: Mixing It Up in the Italian Tradition
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (or to taste)
2 x 400g (14oz each) cans plum tomatoes
generous pinch of sugar
7-8 fresh thyme sprigs
1 ¼ cups (300ml) boiling water
very generous handful of basil leaves
salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons crème fraîche or sour cream, to serve
dried oregano, to serve
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 teaspoon dried oregano, plus more to serve
1 cup good melting cheese, grated, such as Fontina (what I used) or Gruyère
Start by making the soup: heat the olive oil in a large heavy saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and red pepper flakes and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is tender. Add the tomatoes, breaking them with the spoon, followed by the sugar, thyme and the water and cook, stirring occasionally, for 30 minutes. Add the basil, season lightly with salt and pepper and let cool briefly before pureeing the soup in a food processor or blender, in batches if necessary. Pass the soup through a fine-mesh strainer, pressing on the solids with a ladle (Barbara Lynch’s advice: “save the pulp – it’s delicious on crostini or baked eggplant”). Keep the soup on low heat while you make the grilled cheese.
For the grilled cheese: preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F. Have ready two large baking sheets so one can nestle into the other. Line one of them with baking paper.
With a serrated knife, cut the bread into 6mm (¼ in) slices (if necessary, place the bread in the freezer for a while to make slicing easier). Place the slices on the prepared baking sheet.
Melt the butter in a small saucepan and add the oregano. Brush half the bread slices with the butter and place the buttered side down, in contact with the baking paper. Divide the cheese evenly among the buttered bread slices. Cover the cheese with the remaining bread slices and brush the top with the butter. Place a large piece of baking paper on top of the sandwiches and stack the second baking sheet on top of the paper.
Bake until the bread is golden and crisp, 15 minutes or so. Remove from the oven and peel off the paper. Remove the sandwiches from the baking paper.
Ladle the soup into bowls, cover with some crème fraîche and a sprinkle of oregano and serve it with the grilled cheese.