Soup and sandwich meals

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, March 7, 2012

By Janet K. Keeler
Tampa Bay Times
In cooking, as in life, there are classic, enduring combinations. When I say “surf,” you say “turf.” When you say “mint,” I think “julep.” There are many more food-word associations: apple/pie, spaghetti/meatballs and one of my all-time faves, bacon/eggs.
The soup-and-sandwich combo is one of those duos that mostly conjure school lunches or days spent bundled on the couch, the sniffles keeping us in pajamas and home from school. How comforting were those steamy curls of goodness that rose from the mug as we lifted the hot soup to our lips. Somehow, that made things better.
An unscientific survey on Facebook and Twitter reveals that grilled cheese and tomato soup is one of the favorite soup-and-sandwich combinations. Many a person remembers the smooth texture and tangy taste of Campbell’s condensed tomato soup, made with milk, served alongside a grilled-cheese sandwich of American slices and white bread. Butter on the outside of the bread, please, to facilitate browning and to add richness to the dunkable sandwich.
Another favorite, a memorable remainder from the elementary-school lunchroom, is chicken noodle soup and peanut-butter sandwich. It hardly sounds appetizing, but there was something about the slippery noodles and golden broth that matched the nuttiness of the spread. Bean and bacon is another favorite with peanut butter. I think the beans need a wakeup call, so I use goat cheese as a grown-up accompaniment.
Even if you’re long out of school and don’t have young ones at home, a soup-and-sandwich meal, whether for lunch or dinner, can be satisfying. Today, I offer three winning combinations that elevate the school-lunch favorite enough to tickle adult taste buds.
Nearly any sandwich can be paired with soup, but I like a grilled version. To me, the meal seems more finished when both elements are warm. I make a lot of grilled sandwiches at my house. The teenage wolverine likes them for breakfast, or at least he doesn’t complain when that is what’s set before him in the early morning hour. (Maybe he’s still asleep.)
A grilled cheese takes about 6 minutes to make, and the trick is to get the cheese to melt before the bread burns. I avoid this by cooking over medium heat, starting with a hot pan. You need to know your stove and your pans. My pans heat up quickly over medium heat; anything higher and I am scraping burned bits off the bread.
Some cooks like cast-iron skillets for their grilled cheese, but I think they take longer in the heavy pans, and others prefer stainless or non-stick pans. I use a nonstick, but I watch the sandwich like a hungry hawk. I even use the timer, peeking and flipping after 2 minutes. Sometimes, I cover the skillet to trap heat so that the cheese melts quicker.
Seriously, I am obsessive.
The thickness of the cheese matters. Too thick, and it won’t melt by the time the bread is toasted. I have used grated cheese, which melts super-quick. It also oozes out if you cut the sandwich in half immediately after removing it from the pan. Let it sit for a couple minutes before cutting if you grate the cheese.
A slice of tomato adds flavor to a grilled cheese, as do roasted red peppers or shredded pimentos. Blot juicy vegetables before adding to sandwich to prevent sogginess.
I am in the butter-on-the-outside-of-the-bread camp, but I know plenty of people who like both sides buttered. You can substitute olive oil for the butter. The fat gives the bread a healthy glow when it meets the heat. The flavor’s not bad either.
Bread can also be varied in type and size, and don’t overlook tortillas for cheesy quesadillas to pair with Southwest Chicken Soup. This simple soup can be classified as a “dump recipe” because you’re opening jars, cans and boxes and using a rotisserie chicken (if you’d like) to create a flavorful melange. Crispy, cheesy quesadilla wedges are the perfect foil.
A homemade Bean and Bacon Soup takes a bit longer, since you’ll be starting with a bag of dried navy or white beans. This is a four-hour project, but most of it is unattended cooking time. I like to make a soup like this in the evening after dinner but before the dishes. The soup cooks while I am watching TV or doing something else around the house, and I feel quite smug that I have dinner ready for the next night.
The earthy bean soup is brought to full savoriness with smoky bacon. A grilled sandwich of roasted red and yellow peppers with goat cheese and fresh basil leaves is a bright tangle of flavors that sets off nicely against the bean soup. I like this on Italian bread, but you can use anything that’s not too strongly flavored.
I pair the Fire-Roasted Tomato Bisque with an aged-cheddar-and-Swiss grilled sandwich. I like a simple white bread. I’ve found that stronger bread — rye or whole-wheat — steals the thunder from the cheese. The bisque is one of the easiest and best soups I’ve ever made.
Do not be put off by the word “bisque” in the title, which I know brings images of marauding fat grams. There’s just a quarter-cup of cream, which means less than 1 tablespoon per serving. (You could experiment with condensed skim milk to add silky texture and creaminess.) If you’re being uber-watchful about saturated fat, you can use olive oil to saute aromatics and omit the addition of butter at the end. I made it exactly as specified the first time and haven’t varied since. It’s that good.
Sometimes, I wish I’d get the sniffles just so I can snuggle up with a blanket and a mug of the stuff. Grilled cheese on one side and remote control on the other. Now, there’s a combination.
Fire-Roasted Tomato Bisque
4 Tbs. unsalted butter, divided
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 medium carrot, finely chopped
1 celery rib, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
3 Tbs. all-purpose flour
4 C. chicken stock or canned
low-sodium broth
1 (28-ounce) can diced fire-roasted
tomatoes, drained
3 Tbs. tomato paste
2 tsp. sugar
1/4 C. heavy cream
Salt and freshly ground white pepper
1/2 C. garlic or cheese croutons,
for garnish (optional)
In a medium saucepan, melt 2 tablespoons of the butter. Add the onion, carrot, celery and garlic; cover and cook over moderately high heat, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are just beginning to brown, about 5 minutes. Sprinkle the flour over the vegetables and stir over low heat for 1 minute, or until the flour is fully incorporated. Add the chicken stock, tomatoes, tomato paste and sugar and bring to a boil. Cover partially and cook the soup over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are tender, 15 minutes.
Transfer half of the soup to a blender and puree until smooth. Return the puree to the saucepan, add the heavy cream and cook until the soup is just heated through. Season the soup with salt and white pepper and swirl in the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter. Ladle the soup into bowls, garnish with croutons and serve.
Serves 4.
— Food & Wine
Bean and Bacon Soup
1 (16-ounce) package
dried navy beans
9 C. water
3/4 pound smoked bacon
2 onions, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
2 tsp. or 2 cubes chicken
4 C. chicken stock
1 bay leaf
1/3 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. ground black
1/8 tsp. ground cloves
1 (16-ounce) can diced
Boil the beans in the 9 cups of water and then let sit for one hour. Drain and set aside.
Cook the bacon to your desired texture (it can be soft or crisp, whatever you prefer) and drain except for 1/4 cup fat. Coarsely chop the bacon.
Add the onions and celery to the reserved fat and bacon and saute until soft. Do not drain. Add the chicken bouillon, 4 cups chicken stock, beans, bay leaf, salt, pepper and cloves, and simmer for 2 hours.
Stir in the tomatoes with their juice. Serve.
Serves 6.— Adapted from
Southwest Chicken Soup
1 Tbs. vegetable oil
1 onion, diced
1 green pepper, seeded
and diced
1 jalapeno, seeded and
1 (15.5-ounce) can
hominy, drained and
1 (15.5-ounce) can kidney
beans, drained and
1 (15-ounce) can black
beans, drained and
1 (16-ounce) jar chunky
32 ounces chicken broth
2 to 3 C. cooked chicken,
shredded or cubed
1/4 C. chopped fresh
cilantro, more
for garnish
Sour cream for garnish
In a large pot over medium heat, saute onion, pepper and jalapeno in oil until soft, about 7 minutes.
Add hominy, both kinds of beans, salsa and chicken broth. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and stir in chicken. Cover and cook 5 to 10 minutes more until heated through. Stir in cilantro.
Serve with more fresh cilantro and dollop of sour cream.
Serves 6.
— Karen Pryslopski, Tampa Bay Times
— Scripps Howard News Service