Fontina & Asiago Grilled Cheese Panini & Creamy Tomato Basil Soup

For those of you who live in parts of the country that have been getting hit hard with the Winter of 2010 blizzards, snow and ice storms . . . here’s the perfect cozy-up lunch idea that I made last week when the weather rolled through the Carolina’s. Here’s a few photos of what we experienced that was just enough ‘weather’ to build a roaring fire in the fireplace and put my diet to the side for one day!


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Grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup! What could be more perfect for a cold winter’s day lunch? So many of us in the U.S. grew up with this classic, yet simple combination of soup and sammy. But traditionally we’ve used Velveeta cheese alone or at least in combination of other cheeses. And for the soup, we usually opened up a can of tomato soup and added milk and butter in place of water. Not bad for a quick and comforting lunch. This used to hit the spot, but as our tastes mature canned soup doesn’t satisfy anymore, especially after a taste of this creamy tomato basil soup from the Barefoot Contessa, which takes this classic combo to another level!
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I always keep my cheese drawer in my frig full of a variety of cheeses at all times. (It may not be good for a diet, but discipline is key there, huh?). The cheese staples always include an assortment of Fontina, Asiago, Parmesan, Pecorino, Feta, and Maytag blue cheese. Since these are constants in our ‘cold pantry’, a more interesting grilled cheese sandwich is always at the ready!

Italian Grilled Fontina & Asiago Cheese Panini
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What you need to make the panini:
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Italian bread, sliced fairly thick
Fontina cheese, sliced
Asiago cheese, grated into slivers
Parmesan cheese, grated
Pecorino cheese grated
Olive Oil
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What you need to do to make the panini:
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Brush the olive oil generously on one side of two pieces of Italian bread
Layer the Fontina slices on top of one slice of bread (not the olive oil side)
Sprinkle a lot of Asiago slivers on top
Sprinkle a lot of Parmesan cheese on top
Sprinkle a lot of Pecornino cheese on top
Place on your hot panini grill.
Grill for about 2 1/2 minutes and then flip over and grill until golden and cheese begins to ooze onto the grill.

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Serve hot with Barefoot Contessa’s Creamy Tomato Basil soup! A few posts earlier, I posted a recipe from my new cookbook that I received from my niece for Christmas. So instead of the old canned soup standby, I referred to Ina’s recipe on pp 58 – 59 for homemade tomato-basil soup. For this I used fresh-frozen tomatoes from my garden that have been screaming for me to take out of the freezer! If you use high quality canned tomatoes, you should also get nice results. I also keep frozen chicken broth in my freezer so that it is always ready for recipes such as this one. The changes that I made to this recipe included: not adding any sugar, using sea salt instead of Kosher salt, adding more garlic, and increasing the cream to 1 cup. I also use an immersion blender to get everything working together better.
Cream of Tomato Basil Soup (by Barefoot Contessa, Ina Garten)
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What you need for the soup:

3 Tbsp. olive oil
1 1/2 cups chopped onions
2 carrots, unpeeled and chopped
2 Tbsp. minced garlic
5 large fresh or frozen from the garden tomatoes, chopped
1 Tbsp. tomato paste
1/4 cup packed chopped fresh basil leaves
3 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade (my recipe is under “soup” on my sidebar index)
1 tablespoon sea salt
2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1 cup heavy cream
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What you need to do to make the soup:

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Heat the olive oil in a large, heavy pot over low heat.
Add the onions and carrots and saute for about 10 minutes, until tender.
Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute.
Stir in the tomatoes, tomato paste, basil, chicken stock, salt, and pepper.
Bring this to a boil, and then lower the heat to simmer uncovered, for 35 minutes, until the tomatoes are very tender.
Blend in the cream.
Place an immersion blender into the pot and blend well.
Using a sieve/strainer, pull out any large unwanted chunks of anything.
Reheat the soup over low heat.
Garnish with basil leaves.
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Stay warm now!
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