Monday, August 16, 2010

spicy tomato bisque with pesto + grilled cheese on sourdough

I first made a version of this soup in the late winter of 2004, when I was a doctoral student living alone in an apartment on the east side of Athens, Georgia, in the middle of perhaps one of the loneliest periods of my life. Not coincidentally, this bisque got spicier and spicier as more time passed, I started dating D, and my life went on the upswing. This is the best version yet, but I doubt I'll ever stop tinkering with it. The secret ingredient (much as it is for Heidi Swanson's sublime recipe for Five Minute Tomato Sauce, which I have used in every meal including breakfast) is lemon zest, which zings up the canned tomatoes and makes them actually taste fresh.

As for the grilled cheese sandwich, I've learned the hard way that patience is a virtue. Toasting it slowly over medium-low heat ensures that the cheese melts and the bread gets the perfect shade of golden brown - and it means that there will be little crunchy, yummy edges where the cheese has seeped out the sides of the sandwich and hit the hot pan. On the other hand, cranking up the heat too high means lukewarm cheese and burned bread.

spicy tomato bisque
1 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
2 tbsp. butter
1 white onion, finely chopped
4 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 26.46-oz. carton Pomì chopped Italian tomatoes (or regular canned crushed tomatoes)
1 c. dry white wine 
2 c. chicken broth or water
5 or 6 large fresh basil leaves
1/4 tsp. dried thyme
1/2 tsp. dried oregano
1/4 to 1/2 tsp. cayenne (depending on how spicy you like it)
zest of one lemon
1 c. half-and-half, warmed (fat-free is fine if you're making it skinny)

Melt butter and oil in a soup pot and stir in the onions. Sauté over medium heat until soft and golden. Add garlic and stir for 30 to 45 seconds, just until fragrant.

Add wine and stir for a minute or two to deglaze pan. Pour in the carton of tomatoes with juice, white wine, chicken broth, basil leaves, thyme, oregano, cayenne, salt, and pepper. Bring to a boil, and then reduce heat and simmer uncovered for about 30 minutes, or until reduced to the consistency of a thick marinara sauce.

Take the soup off the heat for the moment. Using an immersion blender, purée the mixture in the pot. Stir in the lemon zest and the warmed half-and-half. Let soup heat back up almost to boiling, and then turn off heat.

Ladle into bowls. Garnish with a little Parmesan and a generous dollop of pesto in the soup bowl, and serve with a grilled cheese sandwich.

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Grilled Cheese on Sourdough
4 slices of fresh sourdough bread 
light mayo
butter or margarine
plenty of your favorite cheese

While soup is simmering, heat a skillet over medium-low. Spread one side of each sourdough slice with mayo and the other with butter. Place one slice butter side down in the skillet, cheese on top of that, and the other slice on top, butter side up. Slowly toast the sandwich until it's light brown on one side, and then flip and toast the other side. Remove to a cutting board and slice in half.

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Homemade Pesto
the rest of a package of basil leaves (whatever you didn't use in the soup)
1/4 c. toasted walnuts or pine nuts
2 to 3 tbsp. Parmesan
1 medium clove garlic, smashed into a paste with a little salt on the side of your knife
1 to 2 tbsp. olive oil

Chop everything as finely as possible, and then mix it all together well.

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