Caprese Panini and Roasted Tomato Soup
I have the craziest soup stories of when I was a child. Nothing out of this world crazy, like all I ever wanted to eat as a kid was soup or anything like that. This is a whole other level of crazy. This kind of weirdness I blame on my mother, and now of course I’m sure my mom is somewhere reading this thinking, “Oh naturally, the mothers are always the first to get blamed.” But the truth of the matter is that this is in fact her fault. Where should I begin? I guess I should start from the beginning and when I get to the end, I’ll stop. You should know that I only like eating soup on the hottest days of the year. No that’s not a typo, you read that right. The hottest days of the year. That’s when I want a steaming bowl of soup the most. Not on cold rainy days, like normal people; no I crave soup when the sun is blazing and when we’re all wearing nothing but shorts and tanks. When it’s so hot outside and you’ll do anything to cool off, that’s when I want soup. In the worst possible way. When you’re drenched in sweat because it’s so freaking hot and when the last thing you’ll want to do is eat soup, that’s when I’ll want nothing but soup.
So where does my mother come into this picture? How is it her fault you ask? Well she would only make soup for us on the hottest days of the year. We’re talking about full-on big pot of soup boiling away on the stove while the sun is baking the world outside. I’d be playing in the backyard while my mother cooked, and I remember staring up and seeing the windows full of condensation and steaming from the heat radiating not only outside but inside as well. I knew she was making soup. We all knew. Her reasoning behind it—and to this day I have the same reasoning now because of her—is that the heat from the soup will cool you off. Heat cancels off heat. I’m not sure if and how that works but somehow it made sense. I didn’t question it, and if there was anything I learned as a kid, it was that mothers are always right. Write that down.
So there I was, little ol’ young me drinking my hot soup on a hot day not knowing that something was off. Thinking that every kid ate soup on scorching sunny days. Totally normal. Of course I ate the soup without hesitation because if I’m being honest, it’s the best soup I’ve ever eaten. My mom makes really great soup and I’m not just saying this because I’m throwing her under the bus here. Now that I’m older I’ve come to the realization that hot summer soups, isn’t a thing. No matter how much my mom wishes it were. So for those of you who love soup during the cold seasons—what an odd thing to crave on cold days really—I decided to make a soup post. Much like everything in life, soup is a lot better with a side of bread. Bread wasn’t enough for me though so I decided to make this soup with a side of a sandwich. An accompaniment of a sandwich wasn’t sufficient enough for me however, so I decided to serve the soup alongside a panini. A boring panini wasn’t going to cut it, so I stuffed this one with lots of fresh mozzarella and tomatoes and a homemade basil spread that is super addicting. Although soup is only tasty when it is served in the summer (thanks mom) I’m willing to overlook that little tidbit because this soup and sandwich combo is up there on the deliciousness scale. Get at it folks.
Whenever I cook, I like to map out the procedures of the recipes. What steps that the longest to make or prep? Those are the ones I try to get out of the way right off the bat. It’s usually things that take a lot of simmering or boiling or baking or roasting. Then while that’s doing it’s thing, I progress to the next hardest step and then the next and so on and so on until the easiest steps are last. This kind of multi-tasking really helps create a stress free environment. Then whenever I have a moment of free time, I’ll wash dishes and clean up in between. That’s a great tip because then when you’re all done cooking you won’t have to worry about cleaning up a giant mess. Clean as you go is probably the best advice I can give anyone.
So following the tip from above, let’s start off with the soup. It takes a bit to cook and roast so let’s start with that. Cut a bunch of fresh roma tomatoes. You want to cut off the ends and then slice them in half, lengthwise.
Place the tomatoes on a baking sheet. If you want to make clean up a breeze, then line the baking sheet with foil. If you don’t care and you actually enjoy washing baking sheets all night long then don’t worry about it.
I guess I really like washing and scrubbing baking sheets all night long.
Season the tomatoes with olive oil, salt and pepper.
**Tip: Whenever I cook I like to use a grainer salt, such as kosher or really thick sea salt. For baking, I like to use table salt. The more you know.**
Place the tomatoes in a really hot oven, like 450°F oven hot and roast for about 25 to 30 minutes.
In the meantime, let’s move on to the next hardest step. I don’t really mean hard like it’s difficult, more like, the next time consuming step. Chop the onions and mince the garlic.
Heat a heavy duty pot over medium-high heat. If you have a cast iron dutch oven or something like that, use it. It’ll make great soup. Only use that pot to make this soup. If you don’t have one, then don’t even bother making this recipe. You and I aren’t friends anymore. (I’m totally kidding by the way, sorry if you believed me). You can make this with any pot, gotcha.
Throw in a pat of butter and a drizzle of oil.
Add the chopped onions and garlic and sauté until they are translucent and soft and cooked.
Season with salt, pepper, and crushed red pepper flake. I’m all about seasoning every layer while you cook.
Stir the seasonings together and continue to cook for a few minutes longer. Add the thyme sprigs and toss once more. Lower the heat and allow the onions to cook even further.
**Tip: It’s okay to add the thyme whole. The leaves will fall off on their own as the soup continues to cook. You can remove the stems later on right before processing the soup.**
While the onions and garlic cook, let’s move on to the panini.
In case you were living under a rock and didn’t know, caprese is a combination of fresh mozzarella cheese, tomatoes and basil. It’s usually drizzled with olive oil and balsamic vinegar.
The panini is going to have a fresh basil and olive oil spread. Almost like pesto but I don’t want to call it pesto because it’s not really pesto and if I call it a pesto someone will tell me “Jonathan, that’s not a pesto! You’re missing the cheese and nuts and lemon juice.” So to avoid that I’m not calling it a pesto. I’m calling it a basil and olive oil spread.
So let’s make the spread. You can make it with a mortar and pestle, by hand. Or you can make it in a blender. Or you can make it in a food processor.
I chose the food processor.
Place a few handfuls of fresh basil in the bowl of the food processor. Throw in a few garlic cloves. Season with salt, pepper and crushed red pepper flakes. While the processor is running, stream in the olive oil and pulse until a thick spread is formed.
Set the pesto aside and pull out the tomatoes from the oven. They should be done by now.
Let the tomatoes cool for a bit and let’s turn our attention back to the sautéing onions and garlic.
Add the tomato paste and work it into the bottom of the pot, picking up the bits and pieces at the bottom.
Also add in the canned whole tomatoes. I like to add the canned tomatoes because it adds a richer tomato flavor to the soup.
Then add the roasted roma tomatoes to the pot.
Since this is a soup and the canned tomatoes don’t add enough liquid to the pot, we need to add some stock to the pot.
**Tip: If you want to keep the soup completely vegetarian, then you can add veggie stock. If you don’t care about those kinds of things, then you can add chicken stock to the soup, like I did.**
Stir everything together and put a lid on it. If you like it then you should a put a lid on it. If you like it then you should of put a lid on it. Okay, I hate myself for that. I saw the joke there and I had to take it. I’m sorry.
Bring the soup to a boil, lower the heat and allow it to simmer for about 15 minutes. In the meantime, let’s finish those paninis.
Slather the basil spread onto each slice of the bread. You can use whatever kind of bread you prefer to eat, I used a sliced french bread that I found at the market. Nothing too exciting, except it’s totally exciting.
Layer a few—and by a few I of course mean a lot—slices of fresh mozzarella on top of each slice of bread. If you can’t find fresh mozzarella which can be found in most stores, usually packed in water, then you can definitely use shredded mozzarella. It’s not ideal but it’ll work for the panini.
Lay the sliced tomatoes on top of the basil spread. For this sandwich I used vine-ripe tomatoes. I think they are juicier and a lot better for all caprese needs. Although you can definitely make this with heirloom tomatoes. That would be great!
Top each with a slice of bread with the basil spread, making a sandwich. Oooooooh. Aaaaaaaah.
You can make these with a panini maker, but who really has that lying around? The real question is, who really has the counter space for that hunk of equipment? I don’t that’s for sure. SO I just use a grill pan and a really heavy skillet.
Heat a stovetop grill over medium-high heat, until the grill pan is slightly smokey. Spray the grill with cooking spray or brush with oil. The ensure that our paninis don’t stick to the pan, brush the top of the bread with olive oil.
Lay the panini oil side down onto the preheated grill. Grease the second side and then lay down a heavy pot or pan. I like to use a cast iron skillet to weigh down the panini. The heavy skillet helps squish down the panini and also helps create a crispy and crusty outer crust.
Grill the panini on the first side for about 3 to 5 minutes or until it gets crusty and grill marks form. It should be golden brown. Flip the them over and continue to grill on the second side for another 2 to 3 minutes.
You’ll have to grill the panini in batches, once the first batch is done, transfer them to a baking sheet. Grill and press the remaining panini. Once they are all done you can place the baking sheet in a 300ºF to rewarm and recrisp them.
While those are do their thing up in the oven, you can finish up the soup. Tomato soup is normally smooth and puréed so we need to blend ours. I want this to be as classic as possible. If you have an emersion blender then you can use it here (an emersion blender is one of those stick thingies that you place into the pot and it blends it all together in one swoop). I don’t have one of those fancy gadgets, so I just used a food processor. You can use a blender as well.
The only thing about using a food processor is that you have to, just have to, do it in batches. It won’t hold all the liquid, so you have to do it in batches. Add a bit of the soup, then purée it all together until completely smooth.
Once all the soup has been blended, return it to the pot and reheat it.
When you are ready to serve it, you can eat the soup hot with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and a few grinds of freshly cracked black pepper. Serve it alongside with the panini.
You can also serve the soup cold, if you’re into that kind of thing, but this isn’t a gazpacho, so get that idea out of your head. If you want a gazpacho you can find it here. However, this is autumn and we’re looking for heartwarming recipes. So I have here a comforting soup and sandwich recipe.
I love these two recipes together and individually they are just as robust (I just saw VEEP as I type this and if you know what I’m talking about right this very moment, then you’re my new best friend). The panini steals the show for me, personally. I mean come on, crusty bread with melted mozzarella cheese?!? What’s not to like? If you were to give me just the grilled bread I’d be just as happy.
The best part of the sandwich and soup combo though, as we all know, is the fact that you get to dunk the sandwich into the steaming hot soup. BOOM! I just blew your minds right?! Okay, I’m sure you all already knew that and I’m sure I’m not the only one who dunks sandwiches into soup, but you know what? I don’t care because it’s super tasty and I think we should all be dipping our panini into tomato soup.
I have to admit something extremely embarrassing to you guys: I’ve never really liked tomato soup before. Well in all honesty, I’ve never had homemade tomato soup. When I was little I tried the canned tomato soup, and I hated it. I think that scarred me for life because I was always against making it and trying it again. If you have the same aversion with this soup, you have to get over it and give homemade a try. If not this recipe (but really this recipe because it rocks) then you should definitely try a homemade tomato soup. Convince someone to make this recipe for you. Talk them into making a delicious panini to go along with it because the two were meant to be together. Whatever you make for dinner this week, make sure this is served on one of those nights. Want to know a secret? The soup gets even better the next day, so if you want to plan ahead and make the soup in advance then you go for it.
Roasted Tomato Soup
Forget about what you know about tomato soup. This isn’t the canned soup you are familiar with. Welcome autumn with this warming soup that has all the roasted flavor of fresh tomatoes and fragrant aroma of sautéd onions and garlic. A quick recipe that gets better as it sits. Make it at the beginning of the week and you’ll have a delicious dinner or lunch for several days!
yield: 6 to 8 servings
- 3 pounds ripe roma tomatoes, cut in half lengthwise
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon black pepper
- 1 large yellow onion, diced
- 6 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon black pepper
- ½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flake
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- 1 (28 ounce) can whole tomatoes, with their juice
- 4 sprigs fresh thyme
- 4 cups chicken or vegetable stock
- extra-virgin olive oil for topping
- fresh cracked black pepper for topping
1. Preheat oven to 450°F. Place the tomatoes on a baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Place in the oven and roast for about 25 to 30 minutes or until they are charred.
2. Heat a large pot over medium-high heat. Melt the butter and drizzle in a tablespoon of olive oil, add the diced onions and minced garlic. Season with salt, pepper, and crushed red pepper flake. Stir and sauté for about 10 minutes. Add the thyme sprigs, stir and continue to cook for a few minutes. Add the tomato paste, canned tomatoes and vegetable stock. Bring the soup to a boil, place a lid on it and lower the heat. Simmer for another 10 minutes.
3. Blend the soup with an emersion blender, food processor (in batches) or blender until completely smooth and puréed. Return the soup to the pot and bring back to a simmer. Serve with a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil and cracked black pepper. Serve along side caprese panini. Enjoy!
You can fill these panini with all kinds of ingredients. Whatever your heart desires really. If you want some kind of meat, then add a few slices of turkey or ham. Yes, ham would be good. If you don’t like the basil spread, then you can smear it with a grainy mustard. You can also throw in a few handfuls of spinach if you’d like. You get the point, you can make any kind of panini you’d like. BUT if you want to try these delicious paninis, then I don’t blame you because these rock!
yield: 4 servings
- 2 cups fresh basil
- 3 garlic cloves
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
- ¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flake
- ¼ cup olive oil
- 8 slices french or sourdough bread
- 12 fresh mozzarella cheese, thickly sliced
- 12 slices vine ripe tomatoes
- olive oil for brushing
1. In a food processor, blend together the basil, garlic, salt, pepper, crushed red pepper, and olive oil. Purée until smooth and combined. The mixture should be thick and coarsely chopped. It should resemble a pesto, but it’s not a pesto.
2. Lay out the slices of bread and smear each slice with the basil spread. Make sure to be liberal about it. It tastes good. Layer the slices of fresh mozzarella and tomato, alternating between the two, on 4 of the slices. Top with the remaining slices and press down the sandwiches. Brush with olive oil to ensure they don’t stick.
3. Preheat a grill pan or a panini maker over medium-high heat. Lay down the panini and grill for 3 to 5 minutes or until golden brown with grill marks. If you are using a grill pan, press down the sandwiches with a heavy cast iron skillet or pan with cans on top of it. You want to press it down while they cook. Turn over and continue to grill on the second side for another 2 to 3 minutes.
4. Place the paninis on a baking sheet and continue to grill and press the remaining sandwiches. Right before serving, rewarm the panini in a 300°F oven until crispy and warm. Serve right away with a bowl of tomato soup. Enjoy!