Monday, October 19, 2009
Roast With The Most
I've long been told that grilled cheese and tomato soup is a common and beloved kid meal, even though I've never actually seen one eat it, let alone beg for it or demonstrate the kind of enthusiasm that comes pouring out for pizza, hamburgers and french fries. But then again I grew up in a home with foreign parents who made me slightly more exotic lunchtime treats like chickpeas with spinach and cod or chicken liver paté on toast. And while those definitely don't sound like kid-pleasers, the gift of hindsight has shown me that I was probably a total weirdo as a tyke. I've never really loved tomato soup, especially the overly seasoned and highly spiced ones I typically find in most restaurants (it turns out that you can definitely have too much oregano). But I do love gazpacho and this summer I had the best tomato soup of my life at The Harrison in Tribeca, here in downtown NYC. So as I mulled over what to do with the last of summer's tomatoes, I figured I should finally try my hand at making a good tomato soup--and to pair it with my own grilled cheese.
The first order of business was to elevate the meal to a more "grown-up" level. That came easy for the soup since all I had to do was take a page from the sublime soup at The Harrison, where the tomatoes were roasted until they were black and deflated, folding over on themselves, developing a sweeter more complex flavor. It made all the difference in the world, lending a smoky essence to the soup that hit your nose before the plate even hit the table. Flecked with minute pieces of char, the orange colored soup was full of fresh tomato flavor with a hint of roasted garlic. To achieve the same effect I tossed three fat garlic cloves--skins still on--onto the baking sheet with the tomatoes. The garlic took on a sweet, roasted flavor that balanced perfectly with the slightly acidic tomatoes. And the easiest part was that all I had to do was toss everything on a baking sheet with the tiniest bit of olive oil. After about 45 minutes my tomatoes were blistered and worn, and the garlic soft and sweet. After a few minutes of cooling time I threw everything in the blender and pureed it with some shallots and herbs that I quickly sauteed while the tomatoes cooled, slowly adding chicken stock when necessary (my tomatoes were plenty juicy, so I mostly added more liquid to help the blender do its thing).
Once that was done I moved on to the sandwich, which for my purposes took on the form of a garlic and butter slicked cheese bread instead of a traditional sandwich. By eliminating the other piece of bread I not only removed the added carb-factor, but I also made what can be considered and extra large crouton that was perfect for dipping into the soup. It was your basic garlic, butter and parsley slathered bread that I topped with a delicious raw cow and goats milk cheese (also sprinkled onto the center of the soup just before serving). So in the end I was unbelievably happy with the results. The Harrison's soup had an even more intense flavor than mine did, but without harassing the kitchen staff which runs a seasonal kitchen and no longer serves the soup, I don't expect to ever get their exact recipe. Regardless, I found that I was certainly converted to a tomato soup fan, albeit one with somewhat high standards at the moment. But I'm sure I'll get there, and hopefully this little experiment will encourage others to find the kid in them and put their childhood dishes to the grown-up test. Here's the final recipe for the soup:
Roasted Tomato Soup
2 lbs tomatoes, quartered
3 garlic cloves, unpeeled
1 large (or two very) small shallots, chopped
1/4 tsp dried oregano
1/4 tsp dried thyme
1 1/2 cups chicken or vegetable broth (low sodium if possible)
extra virgin olive oil
1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Spread tomatoes (skin side down) and garlic out on an aluminum foil lined tin and drizzle very lightly with olive oil. Bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until tomatoes are wilted and browned. Set them aside to cool.
2. Meanwhile, saute the shallots, oregano and thyme in 1 tablespoon of olive oil until softened and fragrant. Puree mixture in a blender along with the tomatoes and garlic. Slowly add in broth 1/4 of a cup at a time until the desired consistency is reached. Run soup through a fine mesh strainer or sieve and into a pot to reheat. Taste for salt and pepper and serve. Enjoy!