Apr 182012

Roasted Tomato Soup 4 of 4 600x400 Kafka, Inspiration

I met Christianna of Burwell General Store blog last May at a BlogHer Food conference in Atlanta. We stayed up one night over a bottle or two of really good red wine and a sparkle of friendship was ignited. Even though both of us call Southern California our home, we have been getting to know one another mostly through emails and Twitter. We have so much in common and talking to her feels as if I were speaking to an old friend who can finish my sentences and predict my next thought.

Christianna started Recipe Swap in December 2010, and I joined the wonderful group of bloggers about a year ago. Each month she picks a vintage recipe from an old cookbook she unearthed at a flea-market and throws a culinary challenge to us: we have to be creative and use our inspiration and imagination to twist the recipe, mold it to reflect our personalities and tastes, and give it another life and another form. Every month, on the day when our posts appear, I read the stories and innovative incarnations of the same recipe, delighted each time by unique approaches to a simple list of ingredients.

We have tackled jelly cakewild rabbit with vegetables, hot slaw with mayonnaise dressingmaple syrup cakeToll House cookies, zabaglione, and wild rice dressing, and I am mesmerized again and again by the limitless possibilities of the human mind to modify, adjust, and re-create.

Since December of 2011, we have been working through the book The Second Ford Treasury of Favorite Recipes from Famous Eating Places, compiled in 1954. Our recipe for April is Tomato Pudding, a specialty side dish offered by Hotel Dilworth, a B&B in Boyne, Michigan.

wedsswap tomato may 541x600 Kafka, Inspiration

I had never eaten bread pudding as a child in Serbia; it was a dish I discovered only when I landed, wide-eyed, on the shores of the New World. When I looked at the ingredients for tomato pudding, I sat speechless for several minutes, blinking in confusion, trying to envision a butterfly emerging from a non-descript cocoon hiding in this unappetizing pile of stuff. Bread, boiling water, tomato purée, and a whole cup of brown sugar?

As the fog slowly lifted, ideas started coming to me tentatively. I locked on panzanella, a wonderfully simple Italian peasant dish that combines chunks of crusty, stale bread and sun-ripened tomatoes. But even though I live in Southern California, sun-ripened tomatoes are not here yet, and the bland, store-bought, perfectly round, soulless impersonators could not make the salad sing.

Roasted Tomato Soup 1 of 4 600x400 Kafka, InspirationBut then I thought of tomato soup and imagined a crispy, golden-brown grilled cheese sandwich on the side plate next to the bowl of soup.  Once I firmly grabbed that idea by its tail, I clung onto it, delving deeper, putting the plan of action together, with a vision of a comforting meal filled with assertive and complimenting flavors.

Instead of using fresh, inferior tomatoes from the grocery store, I bought a few pounds of meaty Roma tomatoes and roasted them to intensify their sweet notes. I added a roasted red pepper to add a bit of smokiness and texture, as well as another punch of sweetness. I mellowed the harshness of onions and garlic by roasting them, too, and threw in a bunch of thyme and basil to bring out the bold taste of Italian summer in the country.Roasted Tomato Soup 2 of 4 600x402 Kafka, Inspiration

For the grilled cheese sandwich, I chose to pair a robust and hardy Tuscan-style bread with mild and barely nutty Gruyère cheese and slowly caramelized onions finished with a balsamic vinegar reduction. The sandwich mimicked the deep flavors of the soup with a hint of smokiness and that wonderful agro-dolce note.

Roasted Tomato Soup 3 of 4 600x400 Kafka, InspirationOnce again, I felt an immense sense of accomplishment as my girls and I sat at the table and started eating. The soup was hearty and satisfying, the sandwich a perfect accompaniment with its crunchy texture and mild, melting cheese that trapped caramelized onions in its strings.

I am grateful that I am a part of the vintage Recipe Swap and proud of yet another successful metamorphosis. This is a busy time for both Christianna and me, but now that I have moved even closer, I don’t need a crystal ball to imagine the two of us sitting under the awning of a restaurant somewhere along the Pacific Coast Highway sipping a glass of crisp Prosecco, while the waves break against the beach just a few yards beyond.



  • 2 lbs Roma tomatoes (about 10 larger ones)
  • olive oil
  • coarse salt
  • 1 large yellow onion, chopped into large chunks
  • 6-7 garlic cloves, unpeeled
  • several sprigs fresh thyme
  • a few basil leaves (optional)
  • coarse salt
  • olive oil
  • 1 large red pepper, roasted, peeled, deseeded, and chopped into large chunks
  • coarse salt and freshly ground pepper to taste


Preheat the oven to 300F.

Slice the tomatoes in half lengthwise and place, cut side up, on a cookie sheet brushed with olive oil (I dipped the cut side into the oil on the bottom and then flipped the tomatoes up – it seemed easier than sprinkling them with oil afterwards). Season with salt and bake for several hours, until shriveled and dark red in color.

Turn the heat of the oven up to 350F. Place onions, garlic, and thyme on a cookie sheet (I used a cast iron skillet), sprinkle with salt and a little bit of olive oil and roast for 25-30 minutes, until softened.

Discard the thyme and squeeze the garlic cloves out of their peels.

In a heavy soup pot combine the tomatoes, roasted onions, garlic, and red pepper. Add 4 cups of water, season with additional salt and freshly ground pepper and heat until the first bubbles appear. Turn off the heat and puree in a blender in batches until creamy and relatively smooth. (Be very careful as the lid can fly off the blender once it starts and you can get burned by hot soup – yes, I am talking from first-hand experience!)

Roasted Tomato Soup 1 of 1 600x426 Kafka, Inspiration


(I had a leftover clove of roasted garlic from the soup and I rubbed the insides of my bread with it, but. It gave the sandwich another layer of depth, pairing well with the garlic in the soup.)


  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 1 large yellow onion, sliced thinly
  • 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1/2 tsp coarse salt
  • country style bread (I used Tuscan Country Bread from Trader Joe’s)
  • Gruyere, sliced
  • butter
Melt butter in a pan on medium heat. Turn the heat down to medium-low, add onions and cook them for 30-40 minutes, until soft and caramelized. Sprinkle with salt and add balsamic vinegar. Cook for another few minutes until the liquid reduces and thickens.
Heat a skillet on medium heat. When hot, add a pat of butter (about 1 teaspoon). Place the cheese to completely cover one slice of bread and pile caramelized onions on top. Cover with another slice of bread and press. Carefully place into the skillet and let it cook for 2-3 minutes, lightly pressing with a spatula. Lift the sandwich and add another pat of butter to the skillet. Flip the sandwich and cook for another couple of minutes, until golden brown and crispy. Cut it in two and serve with soup or without.
I know that you will find the inspiration in the creative takes on this recipe from my fellow participants.

32 Responses to “Kafka, Inspiration”

  1. Oh, yum. No joke, I’ve eaten grilled cheese sandwiches with tomato soup for dinner almost every night this week. I LOVE this interpretation– especially the caramelized onions, what a nice touch! I think these recipe swaps are so inspirational, and every month I look forward to reading yours!

    • Thanks:) I really love grilled cheese, but I have never eaten it with soup. I always eat the soup first! I love recipe swaps – it’s my favorite time of the month!

  2. I think we felt the same way about this not so thrilling tomato pudding;) Your grilled cheese is fantastic and your soup is delicate and wonderful. I love your spin on this recipe, bella Lana. How nice you are so close to Christianna and can meet for wine sometime again. xx

    • I am usually intrigued by the recipe, but this one just confused me:) The soup was pretty tasty, though! And I am delighted to be so close to Christianna – she is a doll:)

  3. simply lovely! i want it for lunch tomorrow! or dinner! all of it!

  4. WOW this soup looks gorgeous – both simple and dynamic at the same time, and totally a meditation to make. I love how simple, quality ingredients can become something so special with the right technique. I used similar ingredients in mine and came out with such a different soup – LOVE that about cooking. Great swap!

    • Jacqueline, the creativity and versatile approaches to the same recipe is what delights me when it comes to our group! So inspirational:)

  5. What a great tomato soup! It looks so delicious!

  6. Yum, I love the roasted tomatoes and caramelized onions in your swap, great pictures BTW.

  7. I did make a panzanella salad and while the tomatoes were OK from my CSA, they were mostly like from Mexico and not up to par with summer fresh tomatoes. Still…I wanted to share that amazing salad in anticipation of summer but in truth? I could eat the croutons and the dressing all by themselves!

    I made my first homemade tomato soup only in the last couple of years Lana and I could kick myself for the years missed. How easy it is and how fabulous the results are…never will my pantry be graced with those red and white cans, ever again!

    Happy for this entry and without a doubt…better late than never!!

    • Barb, I received your newsletter, but had no time to read. I am getting ready to to visit all the blogs and see the incarnations of the recipe! And I feel the same way about the canned soup. That was one thing that managed to infiltrate my pantry time and again as we all loved it, but no more:)

  8. Love love love this! Will definitely be eating a close variation of this soon. I grew up on grilled cheese and tomato soup as the ultimate comfort food but love the idea of maturing it a bit with roasted tomatoes and caramelized onions and gruyere! Terrific.

    • Thanks, Beth:) My husband introduced me to this tradition, but I always rebelled:) I have to say that I loved the soup and made enough for a few lunches:)

  9. Ah yes, roasting tomatoes is the one of the best way to get through the winter. I love how you describe your mind jumping from panzanella to tomato soup. Those are probably my two favorite tomato dishes.
    Your soup sounds divine, as does the accompanying sandwich. What a great grown-up version of everyone’s favorite!

    • Rachel, I grew up eating tomatoes only in the season and I cannot stomach the non-ripe variety. I was so happy when I started roasting them:) And even though I did not grow up with tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwich, I love this version (and so do my girls:)

  10. Comfort food at its best with a chic twist! I love the idea roasted tomato soup with the red pepper. And the grilled cheese sandwich with gruyere has to be over the top with the caramelized onions. I would be happy to have soup and sandwiches at your home anytime! :-)

    • My door is always open for you, Gwen! I m trying to set one day a week for sandwiches – it’s hard, because I was not brought up with sandwiches for dinner:)

  11. I could knock down small children to get that that soup and sandwich! OMG they both sound like something I would enjoy. I make a sandwich with chicken, brie, caramelized onions and cashews but yours is much quicker! Gotta try it.

    • Maureen, your sandwich sounds amazing! And I just happen to have a wheel of brie in the fridge! Love the combination of flavors and textures!

  12. I couldn’t stop laughing when I read the recipe you were given. It is quintessential midwest cooking. I love your creative twist on what I considered to be a monumental challenge. At least you didn’t get this recipe… :)
    1 c. boiling water
    3 oz. pkg. lime Jello
    1 c. small marshmallows
    1 sm. can crushed pineapple, drained
    1 c. finely chopped cabbage
    1 c. chopped walnuts
    1 c. mayonnaise
    1 c. whipped cream
    Dissolve Jello in boiling water. Add marshmallows and dissolve. Add pineapple, cabbage and nuts. Let gel slightly. Fold in mayonnaise and whipped cream. Set until firm. http://www.cooks.com/rec/view/0,1643,153163-239205,00.html

    • Lol! Cathy, the other half of the group was given something similar to this recipe with Jello and they all made such creative and beautiful dishes:) I can’t even imagine pairing Jello with cabbage, even though I enjoy savory aspics:)

  13. You always turn the recipes around and make them more than they are!
    Wish it was a tad bit cooler to make this soup.
    Only if i had known you last year, i would have enjoyed a bottle of wine with you in Atlanta! Bummer!

    • I am so bummed, Ilke! We were at the same place and we did not know one another! That makes me sad:( But one of these days our paths will cross:)

  14. It is so great that we can find friends like this in the blogosphere and people who inspire us. That soup looks amazing. I need to start toasting some tomatoes and peppers.

    • Ben, meeting people over the Internet via blogs is the best thing that could have come out of blogging:) As for roasting peppers, there are only a few comforting smells out there that can compete:)

  15. Tomato soup and grilled cheese is an amazing combo! I love that you roasted your own tomatoes to maximize the flavor!

  16. Ha! We were definitely on the same page with the roasted tomatoes and red pepper! Your grilled cheese is the perfect accompaniment to the soup! I too was confused with the cup of brown sugar in the pudding ;) !

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