I remember being a kid and revering Halloween like it was the holiest possible day of the year. Sure the pumpkins and hay bales and fallen leaves were charming, but let’s get to it and bring on the candy, yo! Nothing says fall to a fourth-grader like the hazy sugar-coma afterglow of a well-guarded trick-or-treat haul (there’s just no WAY anyone will find this under my bed).
I also remember the 90 minutes or so before trick-or-treating commenced: complete pandemonium. Mom’s just getting home from work. Costumes need last-minute tailoring. Those darling but equally annoying toddlers dressed as insects or vegetables are getting the jump on the crowd with a 4:57pm door knock, and we know we’re supposed to have dinner but are just too freakin’ excited to get on with the candy hauling. Enter the old soup-and-sandwich standby. It’s simple, satisfying and lets everyone in the house just get on with what’s really important about October 31st: knocking on strangers’ doors and demanding free sugar.
Of course, growing up in Northern New York, it was mostly for naught anyway. I can count on two fingers the number of Halloween evenings that weren’t blanketed with snow. The impact and mystique of being a Mighty Morphin Power Ranger (the red one, duh) is somehow lost underneath a winter jacket so thick that you can’t put your arms down.
Spanish-Style Grilled Cheese with Fire-Roasted Tomato Soup
Yield: 4 servings
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Active Time: 25 minutes
Total Time: 35 minutes
For the soup:
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped or grated
Two 28-ounce cans whole or diced fire-roasted tomatoes with their juices
2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
Salt and ground black pepper
For the sandwiches:
8 slices sourdough bread
6 tablespoons butter, softened
6 tablespoons quince paste or fig jam
8 slices Serrano ham
2 cups shredded Manchego cheese (about 8 ounces)
To prepare the soup, place a large pot over medium heat with the olive oil. Add the onion to the pot and cook, stirring often, until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and tomatoes to the pot; bring the liquid up to a bubble. Simmer the soup until the tomatoes have softened, 3 to 4 minutes. Using a blender, food processor or immersion blender, puree the soup (in batches if needed) until smooth.
Return the soup to the pot and return the pot to medium heat. Simmer until aromatic and slightly thickened, about 10 minutes. Stir in the vinegar and season with salt and pepper. Reserve warm.
While the soup is simmering, prepare the sandwiches. Place a large saute pan over medium-low heat. Arrange four slices of bread on a work surface and butter one side of them. Flip each piece of bread over (butter side down) and spread the quince paste or fig jam over them. Top each slice of bread with two slices of Serrano ham and about 1/2 cup of Manchego. Butter one side of each of the remaining slices of bread and cap the sandwiches off, buttered side out.
Cook the sandwiches in the saute pan until the bread is deep golden brown and the cheese is melted, 3 to 4 minutes per side.
Serve the sandwiches immediately with the warm soup.
Patrick W. Decker’s life revolves around food. Always has, probably always will. As a graduate of The Culinary Institute of America and past member of the culinary teams for Food Network stars Rachael Ray, Sandra Lee, Marc Forgione, Bobby Deen and Paula Deen, he now works as a food stylist and producer in NYC by day and a food writer and recipe developer at his home in New York’s Hudson Valley by night. You can see what he’s up to by following him on Twitter and Instagram at @patrickwdecker or visiting his website, patrickwdecker.com.