It's winter in North Carolina. My first winter here. I'm still trying to understand the climate — sometimes it's cold (and when it's cold, it's the damp, seep-into-your-bones kind of cold) and sometimes it's, well, mild. There can be frost on my car at 8:00 AM and by noon, the sun shines wildly across a pastel blue sky, and it feels like a spring day in the North.
But like much of the country, when the winter sun sets in North Carolina a crispness fills its void, reminding you it's not yet time to break out the flip-flops and cut-off shorts.
What it's actually time for is a slow stew bubbling away in the oven or a piping hot bowl of homemade soup between your hands. Comfort food — the ultimate in beating the winter doldrums — can be quick, easy, and nutritious! And a far better alternative to fast food passed through a pane of glass!
I've been playing with this Creamy Tomato Soup recipe for years — removing and adding ingredients based on what I have on hand. I can tomatoes each year, so there's an added bonus of twisting off the screw top, popping the sealed lid, and smelling the jewels of my own labor. That jar is also a fantastic reminder that steamy, hot summer days are just around the corner! The Welsh Rarebit is an updated version of my great-grandmother's. She would note, were she able to share a bowl of soup and a gooey sandwich, that there's no dark ale in my “cheese sauce,” but what she might find is a cold bottle to sip intermittently with the soup!
Ingredients – Creamy Tomato Soup
- 2 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 medium Vidalia onion, chopped
- 1 celery rib with leafy greens, chopped
- 1/2 red bell pepper, diced
- 1/2 yellow bell pepper, diced
- 1 1/2 teaspoons dried basil
- Pinch of ground cloves
- 2 tablespoons flour
- 1 quart canned tomatoes
- Pinch of baking soda
- 2-3 dashes of Tabasco sauce
- 2-3 dashes of Worcestershire sauce
- 2 cups chicken or vegetable broth
- 1 1/2 cups whole milk
- 1 cup half-and-half
- Sea salt and freshly ground pepper to flavor
- 1/2 tablespoons of tomato paste
- Juice of half a lemon
- The rind of a hard cheese such as parmesan or pecorino
Ingredients – Welsh Rarebit
- 4 slices of rustic bread
- Dijon mustard
- Worcestershire sauce
- 8 slices of sharp Cheddar cheese
1. Melt the butter in a large stock pot over medium heat. Add the onion, celery, bell peppers, and cloves. Place the dried basil in your palm and rub your hands together, allowing the crushed basil to fall into the pot. Stir and cook until the onion is translucent and the peppers are semi-soft, about 10 minutes. Stir occasionally.
2. Stir in the flour and baking soda, coating all the sautéed vegetables. Add the tomatoes and stock and bring to a boil then simmer with the lid slightly ajar for 30 minutes.
3. Meanwhile, toast the bread until it is a light brown. Spread a thick layer of mustard on each slice, and then place cheddar slices on top.
4. Remove soup from stovetop, and with a kitchen wand, purée the soup until it becomes velvety smooth. (You can also pour soup into a blender, if you don't have a wand.)
5. Return to stovetop, drop cheese rind into soup. Squeeze the juice of half a lemon into soup, stir, and add milk and 1/2 and 1/2. Season generously with salt and pepper. If needed, increase the intensity of the tomato flavor by adding a tablespoon of tomato paste.
6. Place the open-faced cheese sandwiches under a broiler until the cheese just begins to bubble (watch it carefully!). Remove from the oven, dash Worcestershire sauce across the cheese and return to broiler until the cheese turns golden brown. Sprinkle with coarse sea salt and serve with a bowl of tomato soup!