I can’t remember my first encounter with this combination, but it was probably at an old-school ice cream parlour in my hometown. When I was little, the crispy, oily sandwich dunked into the rich soup conveyed an almost unbearable feeling of coziness. The cheese was always ‘American’ – processed singles, radioactive orange, savouring of plastic. The soup was without fail Campbell’s Cream of Tomato. I became obsessed with it, and that hasn’t really changed. Grilled cheese and tomato soup are what you eat on a cold rainy day when your heart is a little heavy and the thought of cooking ‘real food’ doesn’t appeal. It isn’t really grown-up food – there’s a reason children love it. It does make a quick and satisfying dinner.
For those unversed in this staple of American diners, grilled cheese is really just a toastie. But I will argue that it’s better than a toastie because you cook it in some fat on the hob instead of in a toastie maker. I’ve seen it done with sourdough and some crazy wine-containing melange of various cheeses, a recipe that was thusly appellated ‘grown-up grilled cheese.’ I’ve made it with brie and blackcurrant jam, which is delicious, but you can’t have that with tomato soup. And can we really call that a grilled cheese? No, we can’t. You could do it with stilton or cheddar or Red Leicester – as long as it melts, you’re good.
This can easily be made vegan, and I’ve discovered that melted Violife is basically American cheese, which says more about American cheese than it does about Violife. Our test of the vegan version received the following reviews: “It’s okay!” and “Oh! This isn’t terrible.”
The soup contains two optional steps: roasting the tomatoes and blending everything up. Feel free to omit if you’re short on time. You’ll still end up with soup.
Grilled Cheese and Tomato Soup
Time: 30 minutes (cooking and prep)
Two tins of some kind of tomato (chopped, plum)
A splash of Balsamic vinegar
A sprinkle of sugar
One or two carrots
One or two stalks of celery
One or two vegetarian stock cubes
A bay leaf if you have one
Cream (dairy or soya)
- (Optional) For best results, strain off the tomato juices and keep them to the side. Dump the tomatoes into a roasting pan, drizzle with oil and a splash of vinegar, sprinkle with about a tablespoon of sugar and roast at 200 or a little higher until they start to take on some colour.
- While the tomato is roasting, chop the carrots, celery, and onion to the best of your ability. Heat some olive oil in a pan and cook this veg until it begins to soften.
- Now add the tomato juice, stock cubes, and about 500ml water.
- When the roasted tomatoes are looking good, add them too. Simmer for about ten minutes, if you have ten minutes, or up to twenty minutes.
- Learn from my mistakes: take it off the heat and let it cool a little bit before you attempt to blend it up! Don’t forget to remove the bay leaf. Then blend until the desired consistency is achieved.
- Finish with a generous glug of cream, enough to make it creamy.
Jazz it up: Try adding some roasted red peppers out of a jar before you blend everything up. Or be really decadent and make a bisque! Just add sherry and a bit of cayenne pepper at the end of step 2. Or add smoked paprika or smoked garlic. Or some roasted sweet potatoes. Or bulk up the protein content with some red lentils. This recipe can work as a base for a lot of things.
Cheat’s version: Heat up a tin of shop bought tomato soup. The organic and own-brand versions seem to be lower in salt than the branded ones.
A Grilled Cheese Sandwich
Ingredients (per sandwich)
Spread of your choice: butter, mayonnaise (tangy!), vegan spread or mayo
A handful of grated cheese, dairy or vegan
Two slices of bread
- Slather one side of each slice of bread with spread of your choice.
- The side that has received the spread goes onto a skillet.
- Top that with a handful of grated cheese, and the other slice of bread to make a sandwich.
- Cook until bread is golden and cheese is melty.
Jazz it up: When you’re putting together your sandwich, throw in a slice of ham or ‘ham.’
Serve with: some kind of salad-y thing. Cut up raw veg, rocket with oil and lemon, cold pickled beetroot, or something like that. And some fruit.