Grilled cheese and tomato soup is one of a handful of meals I have eaten my entire life, on a regular basis. It never disappoints. In fact, it has a way of always making things better. As a kid, Campbell’s (make with milk, of course) and a cheddar (or Kraft single) grilled cheese was one of my favorite wintertime lunches after coming in from the cold. One of my first meals in Astoria was a ‘fancy’ soup & sandwich at The Queens Kickshaw, a local restaurant that specializes in 3 of my favorite things: grilled cheese, craft beer and coffee.
To my delight, a new shop, Astoria Bier & Cheese, just opened down the street. Despite the dozens of specialty food stores in the neighborhood, it’s the first cheese shop. After trying a few different types, I chose a young Manchego. I wanted a Spanish cheese to play up the Spanish smoked paprika (pimenton) in the soup. It also needed to melt well, an essential for any grilled cheese sandwich.
While it’s not necessarily traditional, it’s decidedly familiar. True comfort food after coming in from the city cold.
Smokey Tomato Soup
This is a slightly spicy, smokey version of tomato soup. It’s not super-smooth, but has a bit of texture. If you prefer, you can strain the finished soup through a fine-mesh sieve. A bit of cream at the end helps, too.
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 large onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
3 sprigs of fresh thyme leaves
1 1/2 teaspoons smoked paprika or pimenton* (I used a combo of sweet and hot smoked paprika)
1 (14-ounce) can of San Marzano tomatoes (in juice)
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1/4 teaspoon white granulated sugar
1 1/2 cups low-sodium chicken stock, veggie stock or water
Heavy cream, optional
- In a large, heavy pot, heat oil over medium-low heat. Add onions and saute until transluscent, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook for about a minute, being careful not to burn. Add thyme and paprika. Stir to coat the onions.
- Add tomato paste and stir to coat the onions, increasing the heat a bit until some of the moisture has cooked off. Stir in the the tomatoes, sugar and stock/water. Simmer for about 20 minutes, using a spoon to break up tomatoes. Remove the thyme. Let cool slightly before pureeing in a blender (you will probably have to do this in 2 batches). Be careful: take the plastic cap off the top and cover with a towel, allowing the steam to escape a bit. I prefer this method to a stick/immersion blender because it makes everything smoother.
- Transfer back to the soup pot and season with salt, pepper, cayenne and more smoked paprika, to taste. If you’d like a richer soup, you can add a couple tablespoons of cream.
-Recipe loosely adapted from A Cozy Kitchen
Manchego Grilled Cheese
Peasant-style bread (I used Bread Alone Whole-Wheat Sourdough)
Young manchego cheese, grated or thinly sliced
While this hardly needs explanation, here’s how I make grilled cheese:
Melt the butter in a skillet over low heat. Assemble your sandwich and place it in the pan. Place a heavy skillet over the sandwich to weigh it down. Cook low and slow until sandwich is golden brown and crisp. Add a bit more butter to the pan when you flip the sandwich and cook the other side. Allow to ‘rest’ a bit before cutting.
*Smoked paprika is made with smoked peppers. The Spanish version is called pimenton. There is also a Hungarian version. It adds incredible depth and a subtle smokiness, reminiscent of the role bacon plays in a dish. You can find a couple different brands at Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s and specialty shops like EuroMarket in Astoria or Sahadi’s in Brooklyn.