The theme of the elimination challenge in the most recent Top Chef was to create an adult version of childhood comfort food. The winning combo, created by Betty, was a variation of the classic pairing of cream of tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwich. Instead of just tomatoes, she added roasted red peppers to the soup, and instead of just cheese, she put grilled portobello mushrooms in the sandwich.
It looked like just the thing for lunch, but when I checked out the recipe as demonstrated by Lee Anne , I wasn't too happy with the 2 cups of heavy cream in the soup. Not that I have anything against cream, I just thought it wasn't necessary in this case. So I fiddled around a bit and came up with a much lower fat, but still satisfyingly creamy, version. The creamy texture comes from the pureed peppers and the roasted garlic. The only added butterfat in this version comes from the spoonful of sour cream or crême fraîche that each person adds at the last minute, so the cook can shift any responsibility for the added calories to the eater. The soup is almost as good without the cream, so it can be served to a mixed group (vegetarians and omnivores, dieters and non-dieters, lactose-intolerent folks and Swiss people, etc.)
I've also reduced the number of vegetables used. I think the basil and celery used in the original recipe would bring in minestrone-like overtones, and the cream of tomato soup flavor I was aiming for was much simpler, a combination of sweet with a little sour.
The sandwich is not very low-fat. No real grilled cheese sandwich is. Mine is quite similar to Betty's version, except that I used Gruyère cheese, and added crispy bacon. I also used regular mushrooms instead of Portobellos, since that's what I had on hand and they are way cheaper. I also used plain whole wheat sliced bread, not sourdough (I think sourdough gets rather overused in Caifornia).
Equipment needed: stick blender (immersion blender) or blender or food processor
Preheat the oven to 200°C / 400°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Wrap the unpeeled garlic cloves in aluminum foil.
Cut the peppers in half and de-core, de-stem and de-seed. Put them cut side down on the baking sheet. Bake for about 30 minutes in the oven until the skins are blackened and blistering. Bake the wrapped garlic cloves with the peppers (just put the package on the edge of the baking sheet)
Take out the baking sheet. Push the peppers towards the center of the sheet, and wrap the peppers completely in the parchment paper. Leave until cool enough to handle. Peel off the skins. (Wrapping them in the paper steams them, which makes the skins come off a little easier.)
In the meantime, chop up the onion and sauté in a heavy bottomed non-reactive pot with the olive oil until transparent and soft. Add the can of tomatoes, stock cube, peeled peppers, bay leaves and thyme. Take the garlic out of the foil pouch and squeeze out the softened insides into the pot.
Bring the pot to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer until the peppers are completely tender, about 15-20 minutes. Take out the bay leaves.
If you have a stick blender (immersion blender), blend the mixture thoroughly until smooth. Or, put in a blender or food processor in batches and blend. Optionally, strain through a sieve or strainer (I don't bother with this).
Return to the pot, bring back up to heat, and if it's too thick add a little water until it's the desired consistency. Add the lemon juice and stir very well. Taste and if you think it needs to be a bit sweeter, add the honey. Season with salt and pepper.
Serve with a bowl of the sour cream or crême fraîche on the table, and have the diners put as much of it as they want on their soup.
The key is to pre-cook the bacon until its crispy. Don't put uncooked or flabby bacon inside a sandwich.
To make 2 sandwiches:
Cook the bacon with your preferred method. (I cook them between layers of paper towels in the microwave for uses like this.) Slice your cheese of choice thinly.
Sauté the mushrooms in a little butter until they are brown and a bit crispy on the outside. Season with salt and pepper.
Assemble the sandwiches by putting two bacon slices each on the bread, topped with cheese and the mushrooms. Melt some more butter on a flat grill or a frying pan, and grill the sandwiches on both sides until the cheese is melting and the bread is crispy-brown.