Eight ingredients. That's all it takes to make an entire meal from scratch. Add in a good bottle of wine for less than $20, and you've got a weeknight feast for family or friends. That's the philosophy behind our new feature, "8 & $20." We hope it adds pleasure to your table.
Recipes for grilled-cheese sandwiches are like historic Yankees lineups, cuts of Blade Runner or Elvis songs: Ask five people what their favorite is and you’ll get five answers. There are straight-up, classic versions with gruyère on sourdough, gourmand elaborations with fancy breads and plenty of add-ins and nostalgic cafeteria versions with sliced white bread and Kraft singles. Inspired by the current cold weather, we chose a combination of hearty multigrain bread and cheddar cheese for our take on the sandwich. The sweet nuttiness of the bread is great against the sharp bite of the cheese.
As for the soup, this version is about as simple as you can get, with just a bit of savoriness and weight from the use of chicken stock and a hint of heat from red pepper flakes. Plenty of tomato soup recipes call for a spoonful of sugar to temper the acidity. I am of the opinion that this will make the soup flabby and insipid (tomatoes and shallots are already quite sweet), but if you like it sweet, go right ahead.
We tried a slate of white wines with this meal, but all of them came out tinny and sweet against the food. We had much more success with reds, such as a Carmenère blend from Chile and a bottling from Portugal’s Dao region, known for the Touriga Nacional grape. We liked a Beaujolais from the cru of Moulin-à-Vent best. The acidity of the wine cut through the richness of the sandwich but also held its own with the acid in the tomatoes.
Grilled Cheese Sandwiches and Spicy Tomato Soup
Pair with: A cru Beaujolais such as Georges Duboeuf Moulin-à-Vent Flower Label 2009 (90 points; $16)
Total time: 25 minutes
Approximate food cost: $18
- 2 shallots, thinly sliced
- 1 cup wine (whatever you’re drinking will work best)
- 2 28-ounce cans whole tomatoes, preferably San Marzano
- 4 cups chicken stock
- 1 tablespoon crushed red pepper flakes
- 1 loaf multigrain or whole wheat bread cut into at least eight 1/2-inch slices
- 8 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 stick), softened
- 3/4 pound sharp cheddar cheese, grated (we used sharp white cheddar from New York state)
1. In a large saucepan, heat 2 tablespoons of cooking oil over medium-high heat. Add the shallots and a pinch of salt; cook until the shallots are soft and slightly caramelized. Add the wine and continue cooking until the wine has reduced by half, then add the tomatoes, chicken stock and pepper flakes and raise the heat to high. When the soup begins to boil, turn the heat down to a simmer, and let the soup continue to cook while you prepare the sandwiches.
2. Butter one side of each bread slice. Assemble the sandwiches with the buttered sides of the bread out and a 1/4-inch layer of grated cheese on the inside. In a large skillet, melt one tablespoon of butter over medium heat. Place the sandwiches in the skillet (two at a time if there’s room) and cook until the bread is nicely browned, about 3 minutes a side. While the sandwiches are cooking, press them down using a spatula to get an even grilling. If the bread is getting too brown before the cheese melts, heat the oven to 350° F, and let the sandwiches hang out in the oven until the cheese has melted.
3. Give the tomatoes in the soup a rough mashing with a spoon if they haven’t broken up already, check the seasoning, then divide into bowls and serve. Serves 4.
Note: The Wine Spectator World of Cheese Issue (Sept. 30, 2008) is an invaluable resource for figuring out wine pairings for different cheeses.