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Wednesday: Tuscan Bread Soup with Grilled Cheese

I made this for a dear friend that was visiting from far way. Years ago, we spent a summer together in Italy so this was my nod to that time. Unfortunately, her flights were delayed over and over. This soup kept beautifully.  Once she had a glass of wine and tucked into this hearty tomato soup, she sighed “I feel like I’m home.” The grilled is a new house favorite that was invented by chopping up some stuff I found in the fridge.
Serves: 4     Prep: 30(mostly inactive)    Cooking:  40


For the Soup
4 slices hearty, peasant bread, 1” thick
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
6 medium cloves garlic, minced
1 medium onion, very finely chopped
1 bunch basil leaves, washed well and cut across into narrow strips, chiffonade
28 ozs canned diced San Marzano/plum tomatoes
4 cups vegetable stock
2 teaspoons kosher salt ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Balsamic vinegar
For the Grilled Cheese
8 slices of peasant bread
4 slices of Provolone cheese
1 cup chopped olives, sundried tomatoes, pepperoncini, etc or Trader Joe’s tapenade
1 tablespoon butter, softened


Prep Opportunity
Heat the oven to 225°. Place the sliced bread directly on the middle rack of the oven. Bake for 30 minutes to dry the bread out. Do not brown. Break the bread into large pieces. Set aside, uncovered.
Raid the fridge and finely chop olives, peppers and whatever you may like.
In a heavy bottomed pot, heat the oil over medium heat.
Add the garlic and onion - cook and stir for 5 minutes.
Prep the basil by stacking the leaves largest to smallest. Roll them up like a cigar and slice thinly. Add the basil to the pot and cook for 1 minute.
Add the tomatoes to the pot, raise the heat to medium high and bring to a boil. Reduce to low and cook, uncovered for 15 minutes. Stir frequently.
Stir in stock, bread, salt and pepper and return to a boil.
Reduce the heat again and simmer for 15 minutes.
After 5 minutes or so, begin breaking up the bread with the back of a spoon. The bread should break down to a sort of mush. (I am impatient and use the immersion blender/blender stick/boat motor) You could also use your blender – but remember it hot!
Remove the pot from the heat, cover, and let sit for 10 minutes.
Heat a panini press or large pan over medium heat.
Butter slices of bread, flip over and layer cheese and 1 ½ -2 tablespoon of tapenade.
Close sandwich and grill to golden brown.
Serve soup I warmed bowls with a few grinds of fresh pepper, a drizzle of balsamic vinegar and grilled cheese.