There is something unbearably grim about March. There are some signs of spring, sure. In the back of the garden, vibrant, yellow, witch hazel blooms and the bobbing maroon, green, and white petals of hellebore sway crazily in the wind. A few weeks later, near the trellis, little purple crocuses poke up bravely. I say that because they’re getting beaten down by hail, driving rain, and then blanketed with wet snow. It’s a good thing they’re so short or they’d be flattened.
On top of all this bad weather, I’m sick of bad weather cooking. Long simmering stews?! Again?! Not another soup. Or a roast. Really, no more haunches of animals, thanks. On Saturday, we were very busy so I didn’t have time for a big cooking marathon anyway. Even though I am partial to a Saturday cooking project, they’re hard to fit in with family life. So. What I am supposed to make for dinner?
I’ll tell you. Tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches. But with a twist. I didn’t grow up with Campbell’s Tomato Soup or grilled American cheese sandwiches so I am not at all invested in that gestalt. What I am offering here is hardly the garden-variety tomato soup and sandwich of your youth. No. This is creamy tomato soup as you probably remember, but made smoky with bacon and hot Spanish paprika. The cheese sandwich oozes taleggio over satiny folds of Italian prosciutto and roasted salt and peppery asparagus. If you can get your hands on some buffalo taleggio, you better go for it. I have to say, not only is this menu completely delicious, but, the colors are ravishing and the perfect antidote to dreary grey skies.
Saturday night soup and sandwich: it could be really boring but I promise you, it’s not.
Smoky Tomato Soup – for 4
I suppose it takes about an hour, a lazy hour, to put this together. And if you have a picky child, you could substitute Monterey Jack for the taleggio and skip the ham and asparagus. Please though, no American cheese.
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 3 slices of bacon, cut into thin matchsticks
- 1 large yellow onion, diced, not too finely
- kosher sea salt
- 1 tbsp flour
- 1 tsp thyme
- 1/2 tsp hot pimentón (smoked paprika)
- 1 28-ounce can San Marzano tomatoes
- 2 cups low salt chicken broth
- 2 tbsp heavy cream
- freshly ground black pepper
- In a large heavy saucepan or smaller dutch oven, heat the olive oil and bacon over medium high heat. When the bacon is just crisp, remove it with a slotted spoon and set aside on paper towels.
- Add the onion and 1/2 tsp of kosher salt to the bacon fat and cook for about 5 minutes. The onion should soften and brown slightly.
- Add the flour, thyme, and pimentón, and cook, stirring for 1 minute.
- Add the tomatoes and chicken broth. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Cook with the lid slightly ajar and stirring occasionally for 15-20 minutes.
- Puree with an immersion blender or in batches in a regular blender.
- Stir in the cream and return to the boil. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
- Garnish with the bacon and as I often say, with home-made croutons. So worth the small amount of extra work!
Fancy Grilled Cheese Sandwich – for 4
- 8 slices rustic bread – I use Columbia Bread from the Essential Bakery – the pre-sliced loaf
- 3/4 pound taleggio cheese
- 4 slices of Italian prosciutto
- 12 spears of asparagus – trimmed, tossed with 1 tbsp olive oil, dusted with kosher salt and pepper and broiled for 3 minutes turning once, until blistering and crisp tender.
- olive oil and a pastry brush or spray olive oil
- Cut the taleggio into 16 thin slices and lay 2 on each slice of bread. This may not cover each slice of bread completely.
- Lay a slice of prosciutto over 4 slices of bread and 3 asparagus spears over the top. I think it looks pretty if the asparagus tops stick out beyond the edge of the bread.
- Place the slices of bread with just cheese on top of the asparagus. Brush or spray the sandwiches with olive oil and grill in a hot pan, or even better, a panini press until the bread is crisp-tender and the cheese is molten and oozing.