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I had a difficult time naming this dish.
Attempting to wedge a sandwich and soup into one musical pun proved daunting. At one point I considered simply dedicating this dish to “Grilled Cheese” by Cherry Glazerr. On the surface, it’s a millennial shoegazer dream pop song about making and eating grilled cheese. Sadly, in this double entendre world of modern “pop” music, I knew this wasn’t JUST about grilled cheese. And why was the band’s name triggering my semantic suspicions? Thanks to Urban Dictionary and a few definitely non-culinary definitions I can never unsee, I realized I would need to find a more – ummm – tasteful name for this dish.
I bookmark a variety of song title lists and pun dictionary sites. I had stumbled down a dead end looking for song titles where “cheese” or “cheeses” could replace “please” or “Jesus”. Yes – I could have used “Personal Cheeses” but I’ve got a personal pizza plan for that. I had somehow completely overlooked the cheesy –> easy match. I quickly thought about “Cheesy Like Sunday Morning” but I’m fairly sure that’s more of a brunch omelet than soup & sandwich.
And then there it was. A song I literally had not thought about in decades. A song that not only musically captures the cheesiness of this dish but also embodies with duo dynamic of soup & sandwich.
“Easy Lover” by Philip Bailey & Phil Collins.
Duets are a tricky thing for music fandom. How does one handle a singer you like paired with one that kind of annoys you? I am firmly Team Gabriel when it comes to Genesis. I’ve never really liked much of Phil Collins music with the exception of “In The Air Tonight”. If you can’t find the bombastic joy in that song, you are dead inside. It’s not that I dislike Phil Collins – I just don’t seek him out for listening. I am a big Earth Wind & Fire fan, especially the ’70s era where Philip Bailey was featured lead vocal. I often crank up an EWF playlist when I need a healthy dose of joy in my life. Much like my opinions of the members of this duo, I am divided on “Easy Lover”. I’m a fan of and also strangely annoyed by its cheesiness. I think a lot of that has to do with Phil Collins and a really lame “Behind The Scenes” style music video. If this had been a Phil Collins solo track, I’d likely never listen to it. Add Philip Bailey into the mix, and suddenly you have a palatable (if not cheesy) pop song.
It’s similar to how I feel about the duo of a gooey grilled cheese sandwich and a bowl of tomato soup. I am firmly Team Grilled Cheese in all forms. When I’m too lazy to cook anything else, I will make some form of grilled cheese. On the other hand, the ONLY time I have tomato soup is with a grilled cheese sandwich. To be fair, tomato soup – like Phil Collins – is not inherently bad, just really boring. Pair that soup with a grilled cheese and you’ve suddenly got a cheesy hit on your hands. It’s a classic comfort duo where the sum is greater than its parts.
I go back and forth on using mayo or butter on grilled cheese. I believe mayo makes for a crunchier sandwich, but there is no denying the flavor bump of browned butter grilled into great bread. I also switch up the cheeses but generally stick with something nutty (Swiss), something creamy (Muenster), and something extra melty (Mozzarella). I shred the cheese and use a lidded pan to trap the heat and help with even melting. As one can never have enough cheese, I also make a kind of frico shell on the bread by adding a bit of dry Italian cheese – Parmesan or Pecorino work best – to the butter or mayo sides of the sandwich. As it grills, the cheese crisps up adding layers of both flavor and crunch.
When it comes to tomato soup, I see no shame in using canned tomatoes – especially if you’re trying to blast away a midwinter chill. We are lucky enough to live in a modern world where most of us can easily access great canned tomatoes and should take advantage of that access. I’ve made this recipe using only fresh tomatoes, and I actually prefer the canned version.
Roasting tomatoes couldn’t be easier. Set the oven to 350°F. Cut the tomatoes in half. Drizzle with olive oil, salt, and pepper and place cut side up in a baking dish. Roast 30 minutes or until they are lightly charred. It’s a bit of advance planning, but it pays off with a richer soup.
Finally, yes this recipe actually uses dried basil. That’s more for convenience than anything else. I always have dried basil in my spice rack. I do not always have fresh basil. I do – and you can – use fresh basil when I have it. The amount to add depends on how basil-y you want it to be.
THE CHEESY LOVER
Three cheese grilled cheese (Swiss, Muenster, & Mozzarella) with Roasted Tomato Soup
ROASTED TOMATO SOUP
Makes about 2 quarts
4 TBS butter
2 TBS olive oil
1 onion, fine dice
¼ c flour
3 TBS tomato paste
32oz veg broth
28oz can crushed tomatoes
28oz can whole tomatoes, broken up
5 roasted plum tomatoes, chopped
2 tsp dried basil
1 tsp salt
1 tsp black pepper
In a large bowl, take the can of whole tomatoes with their juice and smash the tomatoes into bite size pieces. This is best done with your hands.
In a heavy pot over medium heat, melt butter & olive oil. Add the onion and saute until soft. Add the flour and tomato paste. Cook until deep brick red. Add the remaining ingredients. Bring the pot to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer at least an hour. Blend with a stick blender if you want a smooth tomato soup.
Ladle soup into a bowl and finish with a touch of sour cream and a bit of the leftover shredded cheese.
THREE CHEESE GRILLED CHEESE
Makes 2 sandwiches
4 slices country bread or sourdough
2-ounces Swiss cheese, shredded
2-ounces Muenster cheese, shredded
2-ounces Mozzarella, shredded
Mayo or room temperature butter
1-ounce Pecorino or Parmesan cheese, shredded
Heat a skillet over medium-high heat. Spread a thin layer of mayo on one side of each bread slice. Sprinkle a light layer of the Pecorino or Parmesan over the mayo and lightly press to make sure cheese sticks to mayo and bread.
Place two slices mayo/cheese side down into the heated skillet. Divide the shredded cheeses between the slices. Top with the other slices – mayo/cheese side up. Cook for a minute to let the mayo/cheese start toasting. Gently move the sandwiches around – not flipping but occasionally moving them in the pan – until the mayo/cheese mixture is golden brown and has formed a crust. Flip the sandwich and repeat with the other side.
Serve with a bowl of Roasted Tomato Soup garnished with a little Pecorino or Parmesan because – well – cheese!