Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Rustic Tomato Soup with Grilled Cheese Croutons..

I made this soup almost by mistake a few days ago when my whole family was coming to visit. It was cold outside, and I was too tired to leave the apartment and go to the supermarket. I opened the fridge and stared at a variety of tomatoes: 2 large beefsteak, moldy/softened tomatoes, a Tupperware of sliced tomatoes (leftovers from the bagel & lox platter I ordered the day before), a box of colorful cherry tomatoes...I just had to come up with something...and in fact, it was easier than I thought.
I literally just threw every tomato item I had in the apartment into a large pot (including sun-dried tomatoes in oil), and the result was spectacular. I was going to serve with grilled cheese sandwiches, but at the last minute, I decided to cut the grilled cheese sandwiches into bite-sized croutons, and this is what really got me the rave reviews...So easy, so simple, so good. 

Rustic Tomato Soup with Grilled Cheese Croutons

Makes 1 large pot, enough for 10 people, but can be frozen in smaller batches

*Note that the ingredients in this recipe do not need to be exact, it is all give or take a little bit...you can't mess it up, I promise.

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 carrots, peeled and diced into small pieces
1 large onion (white or yellow), peeled and diced into small pieces
2 celery ribs, diced into small pieces
1-2 cans diced tomatoes (with their liquid)
1 can tomato paste
1-2 cans tomato sauce
any fresh tomatoes you have: large tomatoes should be cut up and small tomatoes can just be thrown in
1/2 cup sun-dried tomatoes in oil (include the oil), optional
a bunch of fresh basil
lots of salt and freshly ground black pepper
good extra virgin olive oil, chili pepper flakes or chili oil, optional

Heat the oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add the carrots, onions and celery. Cover the pot and let cook, about 5 minutes. Stir together, and cook uncovered for another 5 minutes, until the veggies are softened and translucent. Add all the tomatoes and sauces. Toss in the bunch of basil, and stir lightly. Bring the mixture to a boil, cover with a lid. Reduce the temperature to medium-low, and and cook (covered) for about 30-40 minutes. (Meanwhile, you can prepare the grilled cheese croutons, see recipe all the way below) When you uncover the pot, everything should be softened and 'melting' together. Use an immersion blender to blend it all together, including the basil. Taste it, and season generously with salt and pepper. Drizzle with olive oil, chili oil, or sprinkle on chili flakes. Serve immediately, or bring to room temperature before refrigerating until ready to serve...Freezes and reheats well.
carrots, onions and celery (also called mirepoix)- you can buy this mixture already prepared at many supermarkets!
I used some left-over sliced tomatoes
use all the liquids in the cans and packages, don't strain anything

the more variety, the merrier
add sun-dried tomatoes and their oil
a beautiful bunch of basil adds a punch of flavor
 a hand immersion blender makes it so easy
make it as smooth or chuncky as you like
a good drizzle of high quality extra virgin olive oil

Don't forget the croutons- they take it to the next level!

Grilled Cheese Croutons
makes a ton of croutons!

8 pieces of sliced bread, I used honey whole wheat
your favorite cheese (mozzarella, muenster...goats cheese)
lots of butter

Place the cheese in between two pieces of bread and spread butter on the outside of each piece of bread.
If using a panini press (if you don't own one, it's a great investment): cook the sandwiches in the press until golden and toasty, Remove and let cool. Use a sharp knife to cut each sandwich into tiny cubes.

If you don't have a panini press, heat a frying pan over medium-high heat. Place the buttered sandwich on the pan and place a heavy plate over the sandwich to press it down as it cooks. Turn the sandwich over and repeat on the other side. Remove from pan, and cool. Use a sharp knife to cut each sandwich into tiny cubes.

The grilled cheese croutons can be made up to 3 days in advance and refrigerated. Before serving, lay them on a baking sheet and heat them up in a preheated 375 oven for 10 minutes to crisp them up and make them melty inside.