Autumn may not conjure images of ripe, juicy, tomatoes in most people's minds. But the sight of a Campbell's tomato soup can nearly always triggers a storm of nostalgic yearnings for September and after-school lunches in mine.
Take heed; nostalgia often obscures the painful shortcomings of our past, and turns them into something akin to pedestal-sitting perfection. Such, alas, is the way of my canned tomato soup and grilled cheese meals of yore. I remember them as nothing less than toasty, cheesy, tomatoey bliss in a bowl and on two slices of Wonder Bread. The hot soup that warmed my small belly was the perfect energy-inducing fodder for a crisp, yet sunny fall day.
And that's where the dream ends; with me drooling all over my imaginary repast.
Truth be told, Campbell's soup belongs framed on your wall with an A. Warhol pop art signaturenot in a bowl on your table. Open a can of that crud now, and I promise you won't find the perfection of school lunches past. Thin, noxious smelling, and ultimately watery (let me remind you it's condensed soup, to which you must add equal parts H2O) this is not the stuff of tomato idyll. It cannot be found in a can.
Though you may be tempted by chain store über-marketers to start making everything pumpkin this month, don't forget your local farmers market and the gobs of tomatoes they're still selling right now. Pick up a selection of heirlooms and "uglies" for a batch of homemade soup; the lumpy, bumpy, multicolored monsters will put any premature Halloween ghosts and goblins to rest. And boy, do they taste mmm mmm good. Add my own version of gourmet grilled cheese and you've got heaven on a plate.
For a batch of Roasted Tomato & Basil Bisque you will need:
• 2 lbs. of assorted home grown (or locally farm grown) tomatoes
• 2 small yellow onions, sliced
• 6 cloves of garlic, peeled
• 1 sprig fresh rosemary and ½ cup fresh basil leaves, washed and chopped
• 1 Teaspoon dried chili flakes
• 2 bay leaves
• Olive oil
• 1 Quart Chicken or vegetable stock (depending on if you are a vegetarian or not)
• ¾ Cup heavy cream
• Wand/immersion blender
For two Sharp Cheddar & Sourdough Panini:
• Four slices good sourdough bread (I recommend the San Francisco variety sold at Broadstreet's bakery)
• Sharp white cheddar cheese
• 4 Tablespoons butter
• A panini grill (you can sub an iron skillet and iron panini grilling weight or even a George Forman grill or other sandwich maker)
Start by coring and quartering all of the tomatoes. Place on a cookie sheet or roasting pan with onions, garlic and rosemary. Drizzle with ½ cup olive oil and place into an oven at 450 degrees. Roast for 20-30 minutes, or until caramelized.
Remove from pan and place into a stock pot on stove top with butter, bay leaves, chili flakes and ¾ of the chicken/veg stock. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat to a simmer, leaving for about 15-20 min, or until the volume is reduced by 1/3.
Meanwhile, slice cheddar, and butter 1 side of each sourdough slice. Assemble sandwiches with buttered sides facing out. Place on the grill.
Remove bay leaves, add fresh basil and puree with immersion blender. Over low heat, add in cream and let simmer for another 5-10 minutes. Add in remaining stock during this period to adjust thickness if necessary.
Ladle and serve! Top soup with a drizzle of olive oil and chopped parsley and serve panini with a side of Dijon or whole grain mustard if you like. Just try not to drool too much...