Comfort: a pleasant feeling of being relaxed and free from pain; the state of feeling better after feeling sad or worried; something that makes you life easy or pleasant. I’ve been thinking a lot about comfort lately. Since we moved to Puerto Rico, I would say I’m quite often uncomfortable. As temperatures continue to hover near 90 degrees, I’m often physically uncomfortable. When people speak Spanish so quickly and decide not to pronounce the letter “s” or have their own Puerto Rican vocabulary that is unfamiliar, I’m socially uncomfortable. When I miss my friends or the simple act of sending my kids off to school, I’m emotionally uncomfortable. And when I want to fall on top of my bed and cry because my daughter woke up with a fever this morning and I’m wondering if God cares about how weary we are, I’m spiritually uncomfortable. (Backstory: we just celebrated two glorious weeks of health after six weeks of kids passing around fevers, pneumonia and impetigo. I fear the cycle is just beginning all over again).
I am amazed as I realize how much food plays into comfort. Beyond the ice-cream or gummy bear binge-eating on a sad day, familiar food brings comfort. So after we took our third-born to the doctor after five days of a 101/102 fever and left the office with no answers, I turned to one of the most comfortable foods I know: grilled cheese and tomato soup. While it didn’t miraculously offer healing, it did provide us with a brief state of feeling better. And a couple of days and another doctor later, we had a pneumonia diagnosis and some amazingly quick-working meds.
The thing with this tomato soup is that even my produce-adverse child loves it and gets excited when it’s on the menu. Plus, it’s incredibly easy. Like most delicious recipes, it comes to us from the Barefoot Contessa. A couple of things make this tomato soup stand out: she adds saffron threads. Don’t skip this. Trader Joes sells saffron for a reasonable price, so if you don’t live in the Middle East where it abounds. head to TJs. Also, she adds cooked orzo (small pasta… a little bigger than rice). This adds some body and texture to the soup, but it can easily be omitted. And finally, she adds heavy cream at the end. Sorry, not sorry. Cutting the grilled cheese up into croutons almost guarantees that this is a kid-friendly dinner! But there’s always one… I do add a step of pouring the soup into the blender or using a hand blender to remove the onion and tomato chunks. Because kids and chunky food don’t always get along.
Three other things to note: for those of us on a budget, Gruyère can be replaced with your grilled cheese of choice. I use Extra Sharp White Cheddar. I also triple the recipe for the Grilled Cheese Croutons for our family of six (so everyone gets a whole sandwich). And sometimes we add thinly sliced apples inside our grilled cheese. It’s divine.
Easy Tomato Soup with Grilled Cheese Croutons
For the Soup
- 3 tbsp olive oil
- 3 cups yellow onions, chopped (about 2 onions)
- 1 tbsp minced garlic (3 cloves)
- 4 cups chicken stock
- 1 28-oz can crushed tomatoes, preferably San Marzano
- Large pinch of saffron threads
- Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
- 1/2 cup orzo
- 1/2 cup heavy cream
For the Grilled Cheese Croutons
- 4 slices bread (she suggests country white bread; I use wheat)
- 2 tbsp unsalted butter, melted
- 4 oz Gruyère or Extra Sharp White Cheddar cheese, grated
For the Soup
In a large pot or Dutch oven, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onions and cook over medium-low heat for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until golden brown. Add the garlic and cook for 1 more minute. Stir in the chicken broth, tomatoes, saffron, 1 tablespoon kosher salt, and 1 teaspoon pepper. (At this point, I blend the soup to remove chunks for the kids). Bring the soup to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer for 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, fill a medium pot with water, add 2 teaspoons salt, and bring to a boil. Add the orzo and cook for 7 minutes. (It will finish cooking in the soup.) Drain the orzo and add it to the soup. Stir in the cream, return the soup to a simmer, and cook for 10 more minutes.
For the Grilled Cheese Croutons
While the soup is simmering, heat a panini grill, electric skillet, or frying pan to medium. Place the four slices of bread on a cutting board and brush lightly with the melted butter, being sure to butter up into the corners. Turn the slices over and pile the grated cheese on two of the slices. Place the remaining two slices of bread on top of the cheese, buttered sides up.
Grill the sandwiches for about 3-5 minutes on each side, until nicely browned. Place on a cutting board, allow to rest for 1 minute, and cut into 1-inch cubes.
Serve the soup hot with Grilled Cheese Croutons scattered on top.
I make triple the Grilled Cheese Croutons for our family of six.
Source: Barefoot Contessa Foolproof by Ina Garten