CHEF JEFF: One Byte At A Time — Gourmet Grilled Cheese And Tomato Soup

If there were ever two foods that were made for each other, they’re grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup. It’s not only the perfect soup-and-sandwich combination, it’s a marriage made in heaven.

When I was growing up, a grilled cheese sandwich and a bowl of Campbell’s Tomato Soup was a quick and easy meal for Mom to make for us kids. I bet we had them at least once a week. Perhaps, that’s one of the reasons I’m such a cheese fiend.

We apparently weren’t the only family that grew up on grilled cheese and tomato soup by the looks of many of the restaurant menus that I’ve seen over the past few years. You can get several variations of each, ranging from a plain old grilled cheese and basic tomato soup to gourmet versions of each to please every palate.

With that in mind, here are a couple of recipes that adventuresome grilled cheese sandwich-and-tomato-soup lovers will love to try. The sandwich is from the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board, while the soup recipe comes from a friend of mine, Pete Hougum, of Grand Forks, N.D.

Heartland Grilled Cheese Sandwich
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
5 tablespoons butter, at room temperature, divided
1 Vidalia or other sweet onion, thinly sliced, and caramelized
Kosher salt and ground black pepper
1 tablespoon water
2 large tomatoes or 16 cherry tomatoes
8 slices whole-grain bread
4 slices aged Cheddar cheese
4 slices Baby Swiss cheese
Slice tomatoes ¼-inch thick or halve cherry tomatoes and season with salt and pepper.
Heat skillet or large saute pan over medium heat. Butter one side of each slice of bread. Place one slice butter-side down in pan and top with a slice of Cheddar, then a slice of tomato and some of the reserved caramelized onions, then a slice of Baby Swiss. Top with another slice of bread, butter-side up, and grill in skillet until bottom bread is lightly browned and cheese begins to melt; carefully flip the sandwich over and brown. Grill the remaining 3 sandwiches.
For caramelized onions: Heat large saute pan over high heat, add olive oil and 1 tablespoon butter and then sliced onions. Stir to coat; cook without stirring for 2 minutes. Add pinch of salt and pepper, lower heat to medium and continue to cook for 5 to 8 minutes. Add water and stir to remove any brown bits from the bottom of pan. Transfer onions to a bowl. (Can be prepared to this point and refrigerated for up to 6 days.)newtortsoup

Tortelli, Spinach and Tomato Soup
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
6 to 8 cloves garlic
4 cups low-salt chicken broth
6 ounces fresh or frozen tortellini
14-ounce can diced tomatoes, with juice
10 ounces spinach, washed, stemmed, coarsely chopped
8 to 10 basil leaves
Parmesan cheese, grated
Melt butter in large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add garlic and saute until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add broth and bring to a boil. Add tortellini and cook halfway, about 5 minutes for frozen pasta, less if using fresh. Add tomatoes and juice, reduce heat to simmer and cook just until pasta is tender. Stir in spinach and basil and cook until wilted, 1 to 2 minutes. Serve with grated Parmesan.

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