You may be wondering how a bowl of tomato soup ties into Easter…and you might be thinking this soup looks slightly familiar. If I mentioned that an old friend recently called me and revealed that April is National Grilled Cheese Month, today’s choice might make some sense. But there’s more.
Pam Hoffmaster and her husband, Brett, own and operate the local franchise of Tom + Chee, a restaurant specializing in a variety of grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup. Pam recently came across today’s recipe–one of the first I ever posted on my Fountain Avenue Kitchen blog—and it was right up her alley.
Though the taste is much like a traditional tomato soup, this unconventional recipe incorporates cannellini beans for both creaminess and added protein along with carrots for their natural sweetness and vibrant color. What initially caught Pam’s eye and got her creative juices flowing, however, was my use of grilled cheese croutons and dippers.
Pam pitched the idea of putting my soup recipe on the Tom + Chee menu for the month of April to celebrate National Grilled Cheese Month. Perhaps since Pam and I originally met through volunteer work, or maybe because any good celebration involves the spirit of giving, Pam then offered to donate the proceeds of this special menu item to an organization that happens to be near and dear to my heart—The Boys & Girls Club of Lancaster.
Soon after I graduated from college, I began volunteering at the organization’s Rockland Street Clubhouse. One day each week, I’d head from my job to the Club and spend a few hours in a big activities room where the younger boys had time for free play before more structured activities like Homework Help and Dinner Club.
On my first day, I spotted a Connect Four game, which was one of my childhood favorites. I started setting it up and recruited an opponent. A minute or two into our first round, I glanced up to see a line of no less than 15 boys waiting for a turn.
That was the moment I realized how vital this organization was to these children…and that I needed to choose a different game!
In the nearly 20 years that followed, I organized an after-school book club, spearheaded school uniform and book drives, ran fundraisers, and served on the board. My fondest memories, however, are of the time spent simply playing with the boys and girls.
I would have happily agreed to Pam’s initial suggestion—to sell a Fountain Avenue Kitchen recipe in the restaurant for the coming month. The way she linked it to her second idea got me really excited.
So while I’m always thrilled when readers report that they’ve prepared one of my recipes, I’d be over-the-moon if you’d let Tom + Chee cook this one for you in the coming weeks. Think of it as classic comfort food for a worthy cause…and nourishing your own soul while helping others to flourish.
If you’d like to go…
Tom + Chee
Address: 2065 Fruitville Pike, Lancaster, PA 17601
Phone: (717) 553-5897
Hours: Monday-Saturday 11:00 am – 9:00 pm; Sunday 11:00 am – 7:00 pm
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 small yellow onion, peeled and chopped (about 1 cup)
- 2 carrots, peeled and chopped (about 1 1/2 cups)
- 1 15-ounce can cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
- 1 28-ounce can tomato purée
- 3 cups chicken broth
- 1 teaspoon minced fresh rosemary (see comments above)
- 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes (1/4 teaspoon if you prefer less spiciness)
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
- 2-3 grilled cheese sandwiches, cut into cubes or spears (see notes)
- Fresh basil for garnish, optional
In a large pot over medium heat, sauté the onion and carrots in the olive oil until tender, about 5 minutes. Add the beans, tomato purée, broth, rosemary, and red pepper flakes. Bring the soup to a boil, and then reduce the heat to low and simmer for about 30 minutes.
Puree the soup with an immersion blender or in a regular blender. I use an immersion blender which makes quick work of this task and minimizes cleanup. Add the sugar, salt, and pepper. (I add 1/2 teaspoon each of salt and pepper; you may adjust depending on what type of broth you use and personal preference.) Simmer for a few minutes more.
Garnish with grilled cheese croutons and fresh basil, if desired.
- For the grilled cheese croutons, I like to use Pepperidge Farm whole wheat thin bread. I use 1-2 slices of Cooper sharp cheese–enough to cover the bread with one layer of cheese–and cook as you would your favorite grilled cheese (three minutes on a Panini press works well, too). The result is a thin, crispy sandwich with just the right amount of gooey cheese–perfect for the croutons, or dippers if you prefer. Regular or gluten-free bread and your cheese of choice may absolutely be used.
Easy to make with basic, inexpensive pantry items. The unexpected addition of a simple can of cannellini beans provides protein and added creaminess when pureed into the soup…and one ever knows it’s there.Whether served with grilled cheese croutons or dippers, what kid (or adult) wouldn’t love it?
A single sandwich goes a little further when served as croutons or dippers, and the protein from the beans already gives the soup more staying power. Several years ago, I got the crouton idea from a witty cookbook called “Bite Me.” Since then, I’ve often seen this fun soup topper on food magazine covers and throughout the cyber world. In my mind, I always give credit to this clever cookbook with the tongue-in-cheek name. While the crouton idea came from the book, the actual soup recipe evolved in my kitchen over time. Grilled cheese dippers offer a variation on the croutons and ensure the crispy sandwich edges stay that way. The bottom line is a hearty, satisfying meal that we always enjoy–no matter what the topping!And from the first year of my blog…