I don’t know the quality of school lunches in my day, of how they might be rated by today’s *ahem* standards. I don’t know if they were full of textured vegetable protein, if any of it was fresh-made, if the dietitians considered ketchup a vegetable. I do remember the lunch carts being wheeled through the hallways, the Lunch Ladies that commandeered them, the red tokens we handed over, and the 75-cents that faculty paid, in cash.
I didn’t take part in those hallway procured meals very often. I remember when I did, it felt exotic and very inclusive. My lunches were usually a sandwich (woefully so on tuna salad day,the white bread overly saturated with the mayonnaise and pickle juice), a piece of fruit, and a cookie or other small yum-yum. Mini bags of chips and Hostess desserts were the hallmark of a Field Trip Sack Lunch, always the best brought-from-home lunches.
Tomato Soup & Grilled Cheese was one of the few lunches I did get to buy on occasion. Carrying the tray hosting the divided melamine plate, with the square, cardboard-like, overcooked, hot-held grilled American Cheese sandwich in one section, a small bowl of water-based from-a-can tomato soup in another, some unremembered fruit, and the finale: a serving of full-sheet pan chocolate cake with chocolate frosting. Perfection.
We often had tomato soup and grilled cheese lunches at home, so I don’t know why this school menu was such a favorite of mine. It could have been the comfort factor, it could have been the power of that chocolate cake. What I do know now, tomato soup and grilled cheese it still one of my favorite comfort lunches, except no more canned soup or American Cheese or wimpy bread.
Tomato soup is easy to make. This batch started with some onion & garlic, gently cooked in a combination of butter & olive oil. Shallots are my first choice for this soup, but I don’t always have those on hand. When the onions are translucent, the organic canned tomatoes, some fresh thyme, and a few cups of water or chicken broth join in, then the covered pot simmers for 20 minutes or so. Adding salt is always dependent on the tomatoes used-some canned tomatoes are laden with the stuff!
After the simmer, the soup needs to be blended, which can be done in a standard blender, but I forego the mess and danger of traditional method and always use my immersion blender. The original recipe calls for a bit of baking soda to help balance the acidity of the tomatoes. If I’m using cream to finish the soup, I will omit the baking soda, letting the dairy fat mask any startling acidity, but leaving enough to make the soup interesting.
Grilled cheese at my house is always on my Tartine 60-70% whole wheat Country Loaf, with Tillamook Cheddar. Tillamook is not the greatest or most sustainable cheddar in the land, but Junior eats it so that’s what I have on hand, cooked with butter on cast iron.
Food memory, food as comfort, the taste preferences of any individual are all very mysterious. Why do I like this lunch? The slight acidity of the soup? The crunchy whole wheat nuttiness of the bread? The decadent nature of the full-fat, full-dairy cheese? How all three elements play together? I will ponder these, perhaps unanswerable, questions while I eat my lunch, remembering that there will be some chocolate at the finish. Bon Appetit!