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Winter Warmer: Grilled Cheese & Tomato Soup

Today, for lunch, I wanted something warming. And Angelo loves a toasted cheese sandwich. Back in Arkansas, I loved going to a restaurant in Fayetteville called Hammontree's, where they specialise in grilled cheese sandwiches. And there is nothing better on this earth than a place that specialises in making ooey-gooey, crunchy, magnificently rich parcels of magic.

(Dear Hammontree's: if you can find a way to ship your entire menu to me in England, I would be most grateful. Eternally.)

I always loved their tomato soup--it is sinfully, gorgeously, delicious; almost as if someone has given you guilt-free permission to eat marinara sauce directly from the jar. I've tried time and again to replicate it, and I'm getting much closer. This has been a delicious and very satisfying odyssey; and, while I haven't quite yet managed to make it to Ithaca, I've got some results to be happy with.

Without further adieu, I give you my simple and delicious recipe for tomato soup, and a really nice grilled cheese sandwich to go with it.


For the soup:

2 large banana shallots

3 cloves garlic

3 tins whole peeled tomatoes

2 cups (500ml) vegetable or chicken stock

2 tbsp tomato paste

1 tbsp caster sugar

1 tsp salt

1/2 tsp pepper

1 tsp dried oregano

1/2 cup (125ml) double cream

1/2 cup (125ml) whole milk

1 large fresh tomato

1 bunch of basil leaves

Oil, for cooking

Grated parmesan, for serving

For the sandwiches:

4 slices of white sourdough bread

Room temperature butter (about 60g or 4 tbsp worth)

1 1/2 cups (about 120g) extra-mature gouda (or sharp cheddar), shredded

  1. Make the soup: start by peeling and chopping the shallots. No need to be precise--this will end up pureed, so just get them broken down. Smash the three cloves of garlic with the flat of your knife and peel them. Chop two of them and leave the third whole, but peeled.

  2. Set a large, deep saucepan over medium heat. Add a couple of tablespoons of cooking oil (or butter, if you're feeling extra naughty). Add the chopped shallots and all of the garlic and sauté, stirring regularly, until the shallots are translucent and very fragrant.

  3. Add in the 3 tins of tomatoes, stock, tomato paste, sugar, salt, pepper, and oregano. Stir until very thoroughly combined. Increase the heat to high and bring to a full, rolling boil. Reduce heat to low, put the lid on the pot slightly ajar so that it's mostly (but not fully) covered, and simmer for 30 minutes. Stir occasionally.

  4. Meanwhile, prepare the tomato: cut it in half, then dig out the seeds with a spoon. Discard the seeds. Dice the remaining flesh into pieces about 1/4 of an inch (say, about .75cm). Reserve.

  5. After 30 minutes, remove the lid and remove from heat. Add in the double cream, milk, and the bunch of basil (reserve a couple of leaves for garnish, if you feel fancy). Using an immersion blender, puree until mostly smooth but slightly chunky, and the basil is broken down into little flecks.

  6. Stir in the chopped fresh tomato. If you like (and I do), give it a couple of quick pulses with the immersion blender to break up the tomato pieces a bit, as well.

  7. Put the pot over the lowest heat on your hob to keep warm while you make the sandwiches.

  8. Make the sandwiches: spread the outside of each piece of bread (one side of each--the side that's going to be fried) with butter. I use about 1tbsp (or 15-ish grams) each. Be generous with the butter, my darlings.

  9. Put a slice down (butter side down) and distribute half of the cheese on it. Top with another slice of bread (butter side up). Do the same with the remaining bread and cheese.

  10. Put a non-stick saute pan over medium-high heat. Fry the sandwiches for about 5 minutes per side, until the bread is crisply golden brown and the cheese is melted through. (If, after frying on both sides, your cheese isn't melty enough, pop a lid on the pan for a few minutes or give them a quick blast in a moderately hot oven.)

  11. To serve, cut the sandwiches in half on a diagonal. Plate with a bowl of soup. Top the soup with a grating of parmesan and a basil leaf.

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