I’ve always enjoyed the challenge of taking traditional American comfort food and giving it a new twist. On my recent trip to San Francisco, my friend Sara McGhie made a tomato soup flavored with Harissa, a spice blend that comes from North Africa, and grilled cheese paninis with gruyere, smoked cheddar and caramelized onions. The grilled cheese might have been somewhat traditional, but the spiciness of the harissa gave the soup a great new flavor.
I found harissa in a specialty spice store here in Chicago (The Spice House on Wells Street). It is also available in ethnic markets, other specialty grocery stores and online. However, if you have problems finding it, you can make your own. I’ve provide a link at the bottom for help with that.
You can serve this up as a meal with a bowl of soup and a big sandwich. But, as an additional twist, try making little bite sized sandwiches and using the soup as a dip in small bowls. it makes a great appetizer.
Harissa Tomato Soup with Grilled Cheese Paninis
coutesty of Sara McGhie
makes about 6 cups
6 oz Shallots, peeled and sliced
1 tbl Olive Oil
1 cu White Wine
2 cu Chicken Stock, plus additional to thin soup later, if necessary
2 lg cans Peeled Italian Tomatoes (28oz to 35oz size)
3 tbl Harissa*
3 oz Prosciutto (6 thin slices)
3-4 Basil Leaves (optional) for garnish
Salt & Pepper, to taste
these ingredients are enough for 4 large sandwiches or 6-8 small sandwiches made from slicing a baguette at a sharp angle.
Bread of your choice (French bread or artisan loaves), sliced
1 lg Yellow Onion, thinly sliced
1 tbl Butter
6 oz Smoked Cheddar Cheese, grated
6 oz Gruyere Cheese, grated
Make the soup: Saute onions in an extra large saucepan over medium low heat, stirring often, until they are tender and caramelized, about 15 minutes. Do not let them burn. Increase heat to high and add wine. Bring to a boil and cook for about 3 minutes. Add chicken stock, tomatoes and harissa. Stir to combine and reduce heat to medium. Simmer for 30 minutes. Carefully transfer ingredients to a food processor or blender, in batches, and blend until smooth. Return soup to a large pot and thin with additional chicken stock if you’d like a thinner consistency. Season to taste with salt and pepper and reheat just before serving.
For garnish, preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place prosciutto in single layers on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake prosciutto until just crispy, about 15-18 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool, then crumble in to a container and set aside.
Roll basil leaves into a log and make a chiffonade by thinly slicing the roll crosswise.
Once the soup is reheated, top with each bowl with prosciutto and basil. Serve hot.
Make the paninis: Preheat your panini press. Lay two pieces of bread side by side. Cover one with cheddar cheese and the other with gruyere. Top one side with caramelized onion and close the sandwich. Press the sandwiches according to the directions of your machine. Slice and serve with hot tomoato soup.
If you find it difficult to find harissa in stores (it comes in a variety of forms, from jarred, powdered, and paste), you can actually make a version of your own. Here's one version from the folks at about.com: http://mideastfood.about.com/od/dipsandsauces/r/harissa.htm