A few weeks ago we finally watched the movie Chef. I know many of you may have already seen it – we tend to be a little behind the curve when it comes to what’s new, which is what happens when you sail on a boat for half the year. No worries, though, by the time we get around to seeing a movie at the theater, it’s gone and another new and hot cinematic triumph is in its place. Never-the-less, we do get to the good ones eventually and Chef did not disappoint.
The food scenes were so beautifully shot and inspiring that all I wanted to do when the movie ended was don my apron, pick up my knife, and get cooking.
I think all artists of any craft, whether it’s food or fiber, wood or paint, find themselves in moments of needing to go inward to silence the competing voices, no matter if it’s for a moment or a year. In those moments, I find I must simply breathe, relax and trust that this gift of mine for creating food will again flow freely and with joy. And it does. Always. When creativity begins to flow again, it’s the sweetest of places.
As I watched “Chef” and reveled in the crispy crust and gooey, dripping, melting cheese of a grilled cheese sandwich that he makes for his son, I thought of how evocative the simplest of meals are. How the simplest things sometimes require attention to detail to make them great. The bread was a brioche or a beautiful sourdough, buttered liberally all the way to the edges. The several different kinds of cheese were layered thickly. The heat was low enough to allow the cheese to melt all the way through and the bread to brown into crispy perfect.
And then I NEEDED to make grilled cheese. Right then.
And what goes better with grilled cheese than tomato soup – making us happy for something warm to wrap our hands around.
The quality of the tomatoes in this recipe matter a good deal as they are the centerpiece. If you have home-canned tomatoes, this is the place to use them. If you have frozen whole tomatoes, this is the place to use them (skins removed). If not, good-quality canned tomato like San Marzanos are lovely and work perfectly well. Don’t attempt to use fresh tomatoes this time of year, not worth the cost or effort.
Grown-Up Tomato Basil Soup and Grilled Cheese
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 cups diced onions; about 1 large onion
1 teaspoon kosher salt
Several grinds of fresh black pepper
2 tablespoons dried basil
1 teaspoon paprika
2 tablespoons minced garlic; about 6 cloves
2 tablespoons flour
1 cup white wine
1 cup chicken broth
6 cups whole or quartered tomatoes
1 cup minced scallions
1/2 cup crème fraiche
Heat the oil in a large stock pot over medium heat. Add the onions and sauté for 7 to 10 minutes or until the onions are translucent. Add the salt, black pepper, basil, paprika, garlic and sauté for another 2 minutes or so, stirring frequently. Add the flour and stir until well incorporated. Add the white wine and chicken broth and again stir well. Add the tomatoes and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 30 minutes. For grownups, garnish with scallions and crème fraiche.
Serves 4 to 6
1 stick salted butter, softened
8 slices peasant bread or sourdough bread
8 ounces sliced extra sharp cheddar cheese Cabot or other good quality cheddar
4 ounces sliced Monterey Jack cheese
4 teaspoons Dijon mustard
Heat a large griddle over medium-low heat. Meanwhile, butter 1 side of each of the slices of bread. Make sure the butter reaches all of the edges. Place 4 slices on the griddle, butter-side down and place the cheese slices on top, dividing evenly. Top with the second slice of bread, butter-side up.
Grill for 4 to 6 minutes each side or until the bread is golden brown and crispy and the cheese is completely melted and gooey in the center. Remove from griddle and slice in half. Serve with Dijon mustard.
Creative and happy