Grilled Cheese Sammitches, with homemade Garlic Tomato Soup. © Sugar + ShakeApparently, today was National Grilled Cheese Sandwich Day. So in honor of the great Grilled Cheesus, I will finish up this post that I’ve left sitting in limbo for nearly a month. Hey, sometimes procrastination pays off!

I grew up in a cheese-less home. Oh, come on, it’s not that weird! I mean, for one thing, we’re Asian, so it’s not like dairy was going to be a major food group in our house.

I didn’t eat what the other kids did: no pizza, no mac-and-cheese, no grilled cheese sandwiches. My father hates cheese, and I followed along in his anti-cheese footsteps most of my life. I made an exception for mozzarella (pizza) first, then graduated to other innocuous, bland white cheeses—Swiss and Monterey Jacks and their ilk. I still refuse to eat any “stinky cheeses” (by which I mean anything that is furry, has blue/green specks, and/or smells like feet) and I’m very cautious about more strongly flavored items, like goat cheese, but I’m definitely more accepting of this branch of the dairy family than I once was.

Manchego cheese. Sugar’s favorite substitute for Parmesan. © 2012 Sugar + ShakeYou may have noticed that I substitute Manchego cheese when a recipe calls for Parmesan. Parmesan is just a bit too strong for me, though I will eat it if served it in a dish. Since cooking your own food is all about never having to eat what you don’t want, I just don’t use it in my own cooking. Manchego is a Spanish sheep’s milk cheese whereas Parmesan is an Italian cow’s milk cheese. Manchego’s not as hard as Parm—you can put it on a cheese platter and eat it in slices, which you probably wouldn’t want to do with Parmesan—and it’s more buttery and nutty. Incidentally, I discovered while researching for this post, there’s a Mexican cheese that’s also called “manchego” but it’s not the same at all—it’s much softer, milder and made from cow’s milk. We buy ginormous blocks of Manchego at Costco, chop it up into small blocks and, despite the advice of the folks at The Kitchn, freeze it. (I will say that if you’re planning on eating it on a cheese platter, follow their advice—don’t freeze it. But I mainly use it for risotto, soup and sauces, so I don’t really care that it develops a bit of a crumbly texture.)

Anyway, this long and rambling introduction was meant to help you understand that it’s truly a Grilled Cheesus miracle that I now happily make and eat grilled cheese sandwiches at home. We buy high-quality cold cuts and cheese slices—we love Applegate Farms—and use fresh bread from St. Germain bakery (the French boule is one of our favorites for sandwiches and toast), and pair it up with a homemade tomato soup. Making the soup doesn’t take much longer than heating up a canned one, so it’s well-worth the effort; the taste is so much better, you’ll consume much less salt and all those other evil hidden additives that processed soups contain. The secret? Pomì strained tomatoes. They’re boxed, ready to go, and the only ingredient in there? Tomatoes. (Sorry, the Pomì site plays music, if you go to that link.)

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Sugar’s Garlic Tomato Soup

  • 1 box Pomì tomato strained tomatoes (you could purée your own, but the point of this recipe is that it’s easy and takes, like, only two steps)
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced or sliced paper thin (lately, I’ve been taken with the garlic slices thing; as always, if you’re not a big garlic lover, cut back to suit your taste)
  • Approx. ¼ cup cream (you can substitute half-and-half if you’re trying to cut back on calories or if that’s just what you happen to have in the house; milk, even whole milk, just won’t do it, though)
  • Salt & pepper to taste
  • Fresh thyme or rosemary sprigs (optional)
  • Olive oil

That’s all that’s in here! Simple, right?

Heat the olive oil in a sauce pot. Sauté the garlic until just before burned—they should be a lovely dark gold shade. Be careful, because they go from nutty brown to charred in the blink of an eye. (Some people strongly object to the taste of burnt garlic; if you’re one of those people, you might consider stopping when they begin to take on a nice light golden shade. Shake happens to like little burned garlic bits, and I like them crispy and nutty, so I push it to the edge.) If you’re using herbs, toss them in the pot now.

Turn the heat down to medium low. Add the Pomì strained tomatoes and cream. You can add more or less cream, depending on how rich you happen to like your tomato soup (and whether you’re using cream or half-and-half). Season with salt & pepper to taste. Simmer until heated through. Fish out any herb stems before serving.