The Food Desert Project: Lightning-Fast Tomato Soup and Toasted Cheese Soldiers

The Food Desert Project: Lightning-Fast Tomato Soup and Toasted Cheese Soldiers

This is a week where, like most of you, I’m behind, frazzled, can’t think straight and really, really need dinner on the table ten minutes ago. Once upon a time, on a day such as this one, I sent my husband to make dinner, fully expecting to find cold bowls of cereal and glasses of water. Less than five minutes later, the scent of glorious hot tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches was wafting through the house.

“Where did you get the soup?” I queried, knowing I never buy the nasty stuff that blops out of the can – and which was nothing like the rose-colored goodness set before me. My face must have been the picture of puzzlement, because he modestly replied, “I made it,” with a twinkle in his eye. He showed me!

Upon further interrogation, I learned he had, indeed, made it from scratch, and it was as simple as this: he’d taken a can of plain tomatoes, used the empty can to measure in an equal amount of milk, heated it, carefully keeping it from boiling so as not to curdle the milk. It was delicious. I tried several times without success to repeat this feat, but invariably heated the soup too much (without my tweak below, this soup really needs to be served warm, not hot) and then, grumbling, tossed the resulting curdled soup in the blender (which is a good fix for curdled milk.) I’d serve it, glowering, and soon learned nobody likes soup with glower.

However, I later learned from my Mac and Cheese recipe: a little gelatin is really good insurance against curdling. Some recipes also add a pinch or two of baking soda to raise the PH, but I’ve found that plain gelatin does the trick (Indian recipes often use a cornstarch slurry for this purpose as well.) So, here is MY my beloved husband’s dead-simple dinner-in-a-flash:

1 can tomatoes (strained, pureed, chopped – however you like them best – any size)
1/2 to 1 can milk (you can use whatever’s in your fridge but I find evaporated milk plus water works best. lower fat milk curdles easier.)
1/2 packet plain gelatin per 15 oz of tomatoes (approximately)

Optional garnishes:
Parmesan cheese
Chili flakes

4 slices of bread
4 slices of cheese of your choice (we used a combo of cheddar and provolone)

Simply whisk together the tomatoes and gelatin in a saucepan, and then bring to a moderate boil. Remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly. Dump in milk, whisking constantly, until the soup reaches the consistency you desire. Unless you like your soup at blood temperature, put the pan back on the stove on low to medium-low heat, stir constantly until the soup is warm (165 degrees, if you’ve got an instant-read thermometer. This whole process should take you less than 10 minutes, five if you’ve got a good heavy saucepan that heats quickly. Believe it or not, even if you use salt-free tomatoes (sadly, probably not available in the food desert,) the recipe doesn’t really need salt!

As you wait for the soup to heat, put the bread in the toaster oven and toast lightly (or, if you’ve got a pop-up toaster, start by toasting it there.) Cover half the slices with cheese. Place them in the broiler (or toaster oven) and heat until the cheese is bubbly, and top with the other toasted slice. (Butter if you think it’s absolutely necessary; we don’t, since it will be well-lubricated with delicious soup.) Slice each sandwich into long, dunkable strips.

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Top. Serve. Dunk. Slurp. Enjoy. 🙂

Filed under: Pantry cooking, Recipe

Tags: lunch, quick, soup

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