Tomato soup with grilled cheese. (Photo by Tressa Dale)

Tomato soup with grilled cheese. (Photo by Tressa Dale)

On the strawberry patch: The comfort of tomato soup

When I was very young, my mother would make me tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches on days when I was feeling down.

My husband’s sister had a baby a few short months ago. So recently I’m sure she is still counting the child’s age in weeks. Adjusting to life with a newborn and a toddler is difficult even in the gentlest of circumstances, but her partner is a doctor and has been working seemingly endless hours at the hospital battling the pandemic.

This means that, despite his sincere desire to, he has been mostly unable to help her at home with their children. She recently called her mother in tears after he told her he would likely not be home at all for at least another week due to both the hospital’s inundation of patients and their dwindling staff.

Thankfully, my mother-in-law was able to drop everything and come to her daughter’s rescue by flying down to give her a brief respite, and the comfort only her mother could provide.

While she was away, I looked after her garden and greenhouse. Her tomatoes are more plentiful every year, and this year the vines are positively laden with fruit. She encouraged me to use them as they ripened, and I have been gratefully complying.

When I was very young, my mother would make me tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches on days when I was feeling down. My grown-up recipe features a little spice and a lot of depth, making it both a comforting and sophisticated version of that childhood classic.

Tomato soup

Ingredients

2 pounds fresh tomatoes, cored and cut in half across the equator

1 red onion, roughly chopped

10 cloves garlic

2 tablespoons dried parsley

¼ cup extra virgin olive oil

1-2 teaspoons sugar, according to taste

1 scant teaspoon cayenne pepper. This makes it quite spicy. Use ½ teaspoon or omit if you prefer a mild version.

1 tablespoon dark balsamic vinegar

About 3 cups chicken or vegetable stock

1 cup heavy cream

Salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

In a roasting pan, sear your halved tomatoes, onion and garlic in olive oil over high heat. You will need a cooking vessel that can move from range to oven and back for this recipe unless you want to do a lot of dishes.

Move the pan into a 400-degree oven and roast for 20 minutes.

Return the pan to the stovetop over medium-low heat.

Pour in your stock until the tomatoes are half submerged.

Simmer for 10 minutes while you add the cayenne, sugar, parsley and vinegar.

Turn off heat and either move to a blender or use an immersion blender to blend until completely smooth.

Return to low heat, stir in cream, then season with salt and pepper.

I served my soup with a garnish of sour cream and parsley, and a grilled cheese sandwich using mild and sharp cheddar and parmesan on potato bread. To make your grilled cheese extra crispy, I recommend using mayonnaise instead of butter on your bread. This might seem like sandwich blasphemy, but I assure you, you will never make grilled cheese with butter again.

In these times of woe and worry, we are all in need of a bit of comfort from time to time. I am indeed spoiled by my proximity to willing, happy help when I need a mommy break, but my sister-in-law is not so lucky, and has been dealing with stresses far beyond what I am subjected to, all in piteous isolation. She is often in my thoughts. All we can do for now is urge people get their vaccinations so the hospital beds can empty, and her family can finally rest and enjoy this precious, fleeting time with their tiny baby.

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