This is a delicious early weekday dinner or rainy-day lunch—the grilled cheese sandwiches are great for scooping up bites of soup. These sandwiches are a bit more work, but they are so delicious they are worth it! If you like your sandwiches extra crispy, cook them a bit longer. Serves 6.
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 small onion, sliced
1 pinch crushed red pepper flakes (up to 1/2 teaspoon more if you want it spicy, as I do)
2 28-ounce cans plum tomatoes
11/2 cups water
1/4 cup fresh basil leaves
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Good country, French, or Italian bread
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 pound mozzarella cheese
1. To make the soup, heat the olive oil in a large, heavy saucepan over medium heat.
2. Add the onion and red pepper flakes and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is tender, about 7 minutes.
3. Add the tomatoes and water and cook, stirring occasionally, for 30 minutes.
4. Add the basil, season lightly with salt and pepper, and let cool briefly.
5. Puree the soup in a food processor, in batches if necessary, and pass through a fine-mesh strainer, pressing the solids with a ladle. (Save the pulp, if you like; though it has no place in this soup, it’s great on crostini or baked eggplant.) Keep the soup on medium-low heat if you plan to serve it right away.
6. To make the grilled cheese, stick the bread in the freezer briefly; it will be easier to slice when cold and firm. With a serrated knife, cut the bread into 12 exceedingly thin slices—as thin as you can without making the bread fall apart.
7. Melt the butter in a skillet over medium heat.
8. Heat the oven to 400°F. Have ready two heavy baking sheets of the same size so that one can nestle into the other. Line one with a sheet of parchment paper.
9. Slice the cheese thinly. (How thin is not as crucial here, as the cheese melts so thoroughly that it practically disappears into the bread.)
10. Brush 6 of the bread slices with the melted butter and lay them butter-side down on the parchment-lined baking sheet. Top each with a single layer of cheese and then top with another slice of buttered bread to make sandwiches.
11. Put the sandwiches on the prepared baking sheet, leaving some space between them. Cover the sandwiches with a piece of parchment and stack the second baking sheet on top of the first; this will cook the sandwiches on both sides without the need to flip them and will also flatten them a bit.
12. Bake until the sandwiches are golden brown and crisp, 15 to 20 minutes.
13. Carefully peel away the top layer of parchment, transfer the sandwiches to a cooling rack, and serve warm or at room temperature. If there are any ragged bits of baked cheese hanging off the sandwiches, just trim them away by hand; you’ll want to eat these, so go ahead.
Reprinted with permission from What Chefs Feed Their Kids: Recipes and Techniques for Cultivating a Love of Good Food, by Fanae Aaron, food photography by Viktor Budnik © Lyons Press.