Some people decorate their homes with works of art, or that 90s poster of the hunky guy holding a baby, or photographs of the people close to them, or that 90s poster of the hunky alien going “Take Me To Your Dealer”, or this thing for reasons unknown to anybody, or mirrors (Oh wait, I already said works of art LOL).
Our kitchen is pretty pokey, and there’s only room for a couple of accoutrements on the walls – one of them is a “Life’s Too Short for Bad Coffee” screenprint by our friend Will Tapply who you should definitely check out, and the other is a menu that I managed to sneak past the (frankly superfluous) security guards when we went and had lunch at Katz’s Deli in New Yyyawuck, and proudly framed for display.
I was reading the menu the other day while waiting for the kettle to boil, and noticed something that escaped my attention up until now – the Soup & Sandwich section. For as long as I can remember, Soup & Sandwich has meant a bowl of Cream of Tomato, with half a sliced cheese sandwich on the side. I’ve never had any complaints about eating it – because who can fault Heinz Cream of Tomato and white bread, crazy-paved with cheap mature cheddar? – but I’ve never tapped into the tarting-up potential like Katz’s do, with bowls of Chicken Noodle or Matzo Ball Soup served with half a Pastrami or Corned Beef on Rye
I decided to expand on what I was already familiar with rather than diving head-first into new territory – I’m not about to make a Chicken Noodle soup from scratch after getting home from work on a weeknight. Heinz soup is very reasonably priced so to devote effort to simply imitating it when I could just buy a tin would be a bozo’s errand, so I decided to give the Red Pepper the chance to come out of its usual supporting role and have some time in the spotlight.
Using a similar logic, if a rubbish cheese sandwich (this term is very much relative) goes well with regular soup, then the benefit of combining with a really good version of a cheese sandwich with really good soup is exponential. To make the cheese sandwich better we just toast it, but don’t go rushing to the 1986 shop to buy a Breville, all you need to make this grilled cheese is a decent-ish frying pan or skillet. This is apparently the default method in America, but it’s something I’ve only been doing since The Cheese Truck revolutionised the way I melt cheese during their stint at Trinity Kitchen. One of the main benefits of this method is that you’re not confined to square slices of bread, so ball hard in the bakery.
For the Soup (serves 6)
3 Red Peppers, charred (Sub one for an Orange or Yellow if you like)
2 Onions, diced
2 Carrots, diced
1 Stick of Celery, diced
3 Cloves of Garlic
400ml Vegetable Stock
2-3 Tbsp Tomato Paste
1 Tbsp Tahini
1 Tbsp Cider Vinegar
2 Tsp Paprika
- Before you get started on the soup, spend 10 minutes charring the peppers over an open flame on your hob (just like in my Sweet Potato & Chorizo Chili recipe) and peel the blackened skins off under a cold tap. Chop the tops off and deseed them, then leave them to one side until later.
- Peel the garlic cloves and smash them with the side of your knife – this way they won’t burn and make everything taste bitter, and they’ll get pulverised at the end when the soup gets blended. Put them in a heavy-bottomed pan with the onion, celery and carrot and cook on low for about 10-15 minutes, stirring often.
- Add the paprika and toast for about 30 seconds, then add the passata, stock, tomato paste and stock. Bring to a boil, cover and leave it simmering for about 15 minutes, then take off the heat.
- Blend the soup, taking care not to splash boiling hot liquid over your crotch and kitchen and then transfer it back to the pan you cooked it in – if you can do it all in the same place with a stick-blender then even better. Stir (or stick-blend) in the Tahini and Cider Vinegar. The Tahini adds a depth of flavour and gives it the kind of glossy viscosity you’d usually rely on cream for, and Cider Vinegar brings out the tang of the peppers.
The quantities I’ve given might not be perfect so feel free to add more of the ingredients that can be emulsified into the soup easily – Tahini to make it thicker, Cider Vinegar for bite, and Paprika for warmth. Leave the soup to one side and get started on the Sandwich:
For the Grilled Cheese (per person)
2 Slices of Bread
100g Mature Cheddar, grated
1/2 Ball of Mozzarella, torn
- Put your frying pan on a low heat, if it’s too high then you’ll end up with a sandwich that’s burnt on the outside but uncooked on the inside (it doesn’t balance out) Butter the bread – a good sourdough works best for this, with a crunchy crust and plenty of air bubbles inside – and place a slice butter-side down in the pan.
- Pile the cheese evenly over the bread. Some will fall or overflow, but this is good, those bits will trail out of the finished sandwich as crispy bits, and give some great texture and range of flavours. Don’t go mental though, Jamie Oliver’s version ends up looking like the crown from Game of Thrones
- Put the other slice of bread on top, butter side up. If you’ve got a heavy skillet or another frying pan and a few jars then use it to compress everything down (a sheet of greaseproof between the sandwich and heavy pan stops butter going everywhere)
- Check it’s not burning after 2 minutes, if it’s starting to then lower the temperature and flip it over. Press the other side down with your heavy pan and cook it for another 3 minutes