Vancouverites don skates to brave icy roads. This was the headline on CBC News that I woke up to this morning, and it comes following the latest ‘winter storm’ the city received on New Years’ Eve. We’ve now officially had more than a month of unseasonably cold temperatures and a record amount of snow that has not only fallen, but stayed. I realize for much of the rest of the country this may be borderline laughable but, considering this is the first significant amount of snow we’ve had since the winter of 2014, it’s a pretty big deal for our fair-weathered city.
As I channel my inner Ontarian to brave the sub-zero temperatures (she’s still in there somewhere) and wind down following a busy holiday season, I’m looking forward to embracing the simple, nostalgic comfort foods of winter. One of the most gratifying meals that makes a regular appearance at our dinner table this time of year is soup with grilled cheese. This is a meal that is equally satisfying following a mentally draining day at work; or a physically draining day exploring the local mountains. It’s quick to make when you’re short on time or just don’t feel like putting much effort into cooking. It’s economical and can often be made with whatever ingredients on hand in your fridge or pantry.
Most importantly though, soup and grilled cheese is an all-around feel good meal that’s nourishing for the body and soul. It’s also a meal that can easily be transformed to ‘gourmet’ status with a few simple tricks that not only elevate it as an entrée, but can help clean out your fridge at the same time.
For example, in today’s post the grilled cheese was an opportunity to use left-over ingredients from a holiday wine-and-cheese party we hosted. We had some sourdough bread that was getting stale, and several small bits of different types of cheese that needed to be used. Along with a slather of pesto made using carrot tops (click here for pesto recipe) we made some crispy, four-cheese sandwiches and avoided food waste in the process – which is good for the environment, and our wallets. Be creative with your own fridge leftovers and feel free to improvise here – for instance, odds and ends of vegetables on their last legs from the crisper can be roasted with a little olive oil and balsamic vinegar and added to the sandwich.
For the soup, when it comes to this combo I have a special affinity for tomato soup over other kinds. Largely because I have a generally deep-seeded love of tomatoes as I’ve written about in this previous post. But really, I particularly love tomato soup for the burst of freshness that is captured by a jar of tomatoes when summer seems incomprehensibly far away – which is especially the case this winter. So, without further adieu, below is a basic recipe for tomato soup that is satisfying in its own right, but can be dressed up with some optional additions as listed, or as your own pantry and creativity guide you.
Happy 2017 everyone!
- 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 1 small cooking onion, diced
- 1-2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- Stale white sourdough bread, enough to fill about 1 cup when torn in rough chunks*
- 1.5 L canned tomatoes (or two 28-oz cans) and their juices; or fresh if in season
- Your choice of optional additions per below
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 1 tsp (or to taste) of dried basil OR oregano OR rosemary OR preferred combination
- 1-2 tsp chipotle puree**
- 1-2 cups cooked beans (navy, cannellini, garbanzo/chickpea)***
- ½ cup chopped fresh basil, Italian parsley, or cilantro for garnish (~ 2 tbsp per serving)
- ¼ cup sour cream or plain yoghurt for garnish (~ 1 tbsp per serving)
- 1 ½ tbsp pesto for garnish (~1 tsp each)
*Optional. Stale bread in tomato soup provides flavour, acts as a thickening agent, and is a way to use up odds and ends of leftover crusty bread. Feel free to omit if you don’t have any or would like to make the soup gluten free. In general, if you do find yourself with bread ends that you can’t use right away, toss them in the freezer for future soup making, breadcrumbs, or croutons.
**Make chipotle puree by pulsing a can of chipotle peppers in adobo sauce a in a small chopper or food processor until smooth. Store in a jar in the fridge and add to soups, stews, sauces, eggs, etc. for a smoky flavour kick.
***Adding beans to the soup will provide additional protein and fibre, and also help to make the soup a meal in itself. Like the bread, the beans will act to thicken the soup once pureed, so use the beans in place of the bread for a gluten free, option with a protein boost.
In a medium saucepan heat olive oil over medium heat. Add onion and sauté for 3-5 minutes or until translucent. Stir in garlic and sauté for another 1-2 minutes (the garlic should soften, but not brown).
Add bread, if using, tomatoes, and any optional dried herbs or chipotle puree. Allow to simmer for at least 5-10 minutes if you’re in a hurry, but ideally 20-30 minutes to allow the flavours to develop. Puree the whole mixture using an immersion blender or food processor. At this stage, if the soup is too thick for your liking add a little veg stock until desired thickness is reached. Adjust seasoning to taste.
Serve as is, or with optional additional fresh garnishes, alongside grilled cheese, or other sandwich or salad of choice.