Ironically enough, my mom’s maiden name was Campbell, and this soup was the staple soup we ate as kids. We joked about the coincidence every time she ladled it into bowls. Except, of course, this is freshly made, not from a can. And, of course, I recommend making this when the tomatoes are at their very best; otherwise, use your own put-ups, or good-quality canned ripe tomatoes. 

And our grilled cheese sandwiches were not made with a couple of plastic-wrapped “slices” of processed cheese food served between two slices of very white, very processed bread. They were made with real cheddar cheese. Also, my mom made her own soft white loaf bread that often flowed- over at the top of the rectangle bread pan while baking, causing the slices to resemble the shape of a mushroom. The beard had lots of air-pockets – holes – so the cheese could melt-through and brown on the cast iron skillet she was cooking the sandwiches. 

In short, the key a mind-blowing combination of this classic match-up is the quality of the base ingredients — tomatoes, bread, and cheese. For the soup – as mentioned above – ripe tomatoes, whether raw in season or canned from good tomatoes. For the bread, a great crusty baguette or boule from a reputable local bakery – or for those of you who have become COVID-19 bread warriors – bake your own. Just make sure you’ve chosen or baked a bread with a good amount of holes (air pockets) so the cheese can melt-through and become crispy while you’re cooking the sandwich.  

For the cheese — any good quality real cheese will do — sharp cheddar, Gruyere, raw milk cow’s or sheep’s cheese. And you can use a combo of cheeses. If you want to use a soft-ripened cheese like brie or camembert, I recommend you blend it with sturdier cheeses that can achieve the desired crispy result when it melts to the bottom of the pan. This is where you rule. After all, you’re the chef!

 

Serves 6 to 8 

 

Soup Ingredients

6-8 ripe tomatoes, cored and cut into wedges, or canned tomatoes, drained (important!) and cut into wedges 

2 cups extra-virgin olive oil 

Stems from one basil plant – leaves saved for garnish

1/2 cup sliced fresh basil (1 bunch), packed 

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper 

 

Sandwich Ingredients

8 ounces cheddar, Gruyere, Manchego, aged sheep’s cheese, or any combination of your favorite cheese. 

16 thick slices sourdough ficelle, cut on a sharp bias 

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened 

 

Steps

  1. Preheat the oven to 150°F.
  2. Choose a baking dish just large enough to hold the tomatoes in a single layer. Line the bottom of the dish with the basil setms, the arrange the tomatoes over them. Pour the oil over the tomatoes to coat the wedges evenly. 
  3. Roast the tomatoes, covered, for 4 to 6 hours, or until they are fully wilted. If possible, leave them in the oven for twice the time–or overnight–for the best result.
  4. Transfer batches of the tomatoes, oil and juices into a blender or food processor, and purré. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Set aside and keep warm.
  5. Evenly distribute the cheese among 8 slices of bread. Top with the remaining slices of bread to form cheese sandwiches. Press them gently, but firmly to ensiure the hold together. Butter the top and bottom of each sandwich.
  6. Meanwhile, heat a heavy-bottomed skillet over medium heat. Cook the sandwiches for about 2 to 4 minutes on each side, or until the cheese is melted, with a some of the cheese melting-through to the pan, and the bread is nicely browned.
  7. Use an upside-down spatula to gently scr4ape the browned cheese from the skillet to the crispy metled cheese stays attached to the sandwich.
  8. Ladle the soup into bowls and serve the cheese sandwiches alongside.

 

Photo Courtesy of Andre Baranowski.  Baranowski is a NY based food photographer and was the principal photographer for Michel Nischan’s cookbook – Sustainably Delicious.