Friday, October 14, 2011

Soup & Sandwich Sundays

I love Sunday dinners; comfort food leisurely enjoyed round the dining room table as family and friends savor what is left of the weekend.  I also love my husband and for several months a year am willing to give the Sunday meal a makeover to accommodate his favorite tradition: NFL football.

Though I've never been a fan of football, there is something about the smell of simmering soup and the sounds of sportscasters that take me back to the chilly northern falls of my youth.  Fast forward a few decades, I have actually grown to enjoy our new Sunday afternoons for the excuse to sit on the couch and leaf through magazines while my husband paces the family room and endures Pizza Hut commercials.  The perfect meal for these Sundays?  Soup and sandwich; not some condensed chicken noodle and a turkey on wheat but a thick and hearty soup paired with a pressed sandwich oozing with all of the indulgences of a weekend.  Add a few glasses of wine and a casual visit from friends; this is the stuff of greatness.

This soup was inspired by a recent issue of the Williams-Sonoma Catalogue.  Created for a Cuisine Art Soup gadget, it was easily reinterpreted for stovetop cooking.  With a hearty texture and rich flavors, this is a perfect soup enjoyed on the couch, at the dining room table, or from your thermos in the midweek.  

Smoky Lentil Soup
Recipe By: Williams-Sonoma
3 thick cut bacon slices, diced
2 TB Oil
1 Carrot, peeled and cut into a 1/4" dice
1 celery stalk cut into a 1/4" dice
1 large yellow onion, diced
1-2 garlic cloves minced
1 TB tomato paste
1 14 oz. can peeled tomatoes crushed by hand (I used 1 1/4 cup cherry tomatoes, halved)
3/4 cup Red Chief Lentils
1 quart chicken broth
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  1. Fry bacon in a heavy bottomed pot over medium heat until crispy.  Remove from the skillet and drain on a plate lined with paper towels.  
  2. Lower heat, and add carrot, celery and onion. Saute until soft, about 7-8 minutes.  Add garlic and saute until fragrant; 90 seconds.  Add tomato paste, canned tomatoes and broth.  Bring to a boil add the lentils and lower heat to a simmer.  Cover, and simmer lentils until lentils are tender, about 20 minutes.  
  3. Using an immersion blender, give the soup a quick swirl; your intention is to puree about half of the soup.  Taste and add salt and pepper as needed.  
  4. Ladle into soup bowls and top with bacon. 
Williams-Sonoma recommended a Grown Up Grilled Cheese with this soup.  Finding their recipe a bit dull, I opted for Ina Garten's Ultimate Grilled Cheese.  An ultimate grilled cheese it was!

Ultimate Grilled Cheese
Recipe By: Ina Garten, How Easy is That?
12 slices thick cut bacon
1 cup good quality mayonnaise (I used Hellmans with olive oil)
1/4 cup Dijon Mustard (I used my homemade variety)
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper
1 loaf sourdough bread (12 slices)
6 TB salted butter at room temperature (I salted my unsalted butter to prevent buying two ingredients)
6 ounces aged Gruyere or Comte cheese
6 ounces extra-sharp Cheddar
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Arrange the bacon on a baking rack set over a sheet pan in a single layer and roast for 20 to 30 minutes, until nicely browned .  Drain on a plate lined with paper towels and cut in 1 inch pieces.  
  2. Meanwhile, combine the mayonnaise, mustard, Parmesan, salt and pepper in a small bowl.  Lay 12 slices of bread on a board and spread each one lightly with butter.  Flip the slices and spread each one generously with the mayonnaise mixture.  Don't neglect the corners. 
  3. Grate the cheese in a food processor fitted with the largest grating disk and combine.  Distribute the bacon evenly on half of the slices of bread.  Pile 1/2 cup grated cheese evenly on top of the bacon and top with the remaining bread slices, sauce side down. 
  4. Meanwhile, heat an electric panini press.  When the press is hot, cook the sandwich for 3-5 minutes in batches until the bread is toasted and the cheese is melted.  Allow to cool for 2  minutes.  Cut in half and serve warm.  
These rich sandwiches are a meal in themselves.  This is certainly a meal that you can cook in the afternoon and completely neglect all eating for the rest of the day.  If you are lucky enough to have vegetarian friends stop by with cookies, sub the bacon for canned tomatoes and enjoy over wine.  This is what Sundays are made for.
Budget Note:  Batches of soup make quite a few portions; even this family can let them go bad before finishing an entire pot. My recommendation?  Purchase 1-2 cup tupperware containers and freeze individual servings.  These make perfect lunches on the go, or a last minute dinner on a chilly evening.

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