Spring’s failure to arrive this year has left me wondering if winter has stabbed it through its tender heart with an icicle. All these cold evenings leave me longing for a steaming bowl of creamy homemade soup that warms my body and soul. Tomato soup and a grilled cheese sandwich was what Mom used to warm up my tummy after a long morning of playing in the snow. But back then, tomato soup meant a thin bowl of canned Campbell’s. And the grilled cheese was nearly always those plasticized American singles, on white sandwich bread.
I think we can do a little better than that.
One of the things I adore about this delicious recipe is that it uses an appliance I don’t utilize often enough: my slow cooker! I found the original recipe in my Cook’s Illustrated Slow Cooker Revolution cookbook. So as I was thinking about ways to improve the recipe, I had a flash of inspiration.
Why not turn a grilled cheese sandwich into croutons?
I wanted to make the world’s BEST croutons for tomato soup: crunchy on the outside…creamy on the inside! To make my grilled cheese the best it could be, I used a good quality, crusty French bread that I like, and sliced it thin. And I used my favorite cheddar, Seriously Sharp Cheddar from Cabot Cheese. It is tangy, nutty, and complex in flavor, and its taste added so much to the flavor of this dish.
This soup gets its depth of flavor from the step where you caramelize the tomatoes: that is, you cook them until they are nearly dry and beginning to brown. When food browns, it brings out the natural sugars in it. And as Chef Anne Burrell says, “Brown food tastes good!”.
You can use regular diced tomatoes, but I find the fire-roasted tomatoes add a nice depth of flavor, so that’s what I use. I also use my own homemade chicken broth. I make up a large batch and store it in approximately 2 or 3 cup portions in my freezer. You can certainly use store bought chicken broth, but your soup will only be better if you’ve made your own. You can use any type of cheese that you like for a grilled cheese, but I used Cabot Seriously Sharp, and it is seriously good.
Because I am a PROUD member of the Cabot Cheese Board, they sent me a box of 4 types of their cheeses to try, a few months ago. But I made this recipe with Cabot Cheese that I purchased on my own, since then, because I love their cheese. So I actually received no product, nor financial compensation whatsoever for this post. I just like Cabot’s cheddar. So stick THAT in your sandwich and melt it.
- 2 T. butter
- 3 (14.5 oz.) cans of fire-roasted diced tomatoes, drained (Reserve the juices for use in the soup.)
- 1 onion, minced
- 1 T. brown sugar
- 1 T. tomato paste
- salt and pepper
- 2 T. all-purpose flour
- 3 c. chicken broth
- 2 bay leaves
- 1/2 c. heavy cream
- 1 T. dry sherry
- pinch of cayenne pepper
- crusty loaf of French or Tuscan bread, thinly sliced
- Cabot Seriously Sharp Cheddar Cheese
- Melt butter in a 12" skillet over medium-high heat. Add tomatoes, onion, sugar, tomato paste and 1/2 t. salt and a few grinds of pepper, and cook until tomatoes are dry and lightly browned. Your goal here is to caramelize the tomatoes, a bit, and this will take about 10 minutes. Stir in the flour, and cook for 1 minute. Slowly whisk in 1 cup of the broth, scraping up any browned bits in the pan. Transfer everything to your slow cooker.
- Stir remaining 2 c. chicken broth, the tomato juice you drained from the tomatoes, and bay leaves into slow cooker. Cover and cook until tomatoes begin to break down, 4 to 6 hours on low, depending on how high your slow cooker tends to cook. (I left my soup on Low for 6 hours, and that was fine: but my slow cooker doesn't tend to burn things, so your mileage may vary.)
- Discard bay leaves. Working in batches, purée soup in blender until smooth. I used my Vitamix. (Do not put too much hot liquid into a blender! I only fill my Vitamix about 1/3 full when I'm puréeing hot liquids, just to be safe.) Pour each batch of puréed soup into a large saucepan, and Stir in cream, sherry, and cayenne. You may add additional chicken broth at this time, if you prefer a thinner soup, (I didn't.) Re-heat soup over medium low heat, until hot, and taste for seasoning, adding more salt or pepper, if desired. (Mine needed a bit more salt.)
- Butter the slices of bread on what will be the outside of the sandwich, and apply as much cheese as you like. Grill sandwiches until you have a lovely brown color, and slice into approximately 1" cubes. I served my grilled cheese croutons on the side of the bowl, so that I could add one at a time, because I didn't want them to get soggy by adding them all at once. Each to her own, however.
- You can use regular diced tomatoes, but I find the fire-roasted tomatoes add a nice depth of flavor, so that's what I use. I also use my own homemade chicken broth. I make up a large batch and store it in approximately 2 or 3 cup portions in my freezer. You can certainly use store bought chicken broth, but your soup will only be better if you've made your own. You can use any type of cheese that you like for a grilled cheese, but I used Cabot Seriously Sharp, and it is seriously good.