My love affair with tomato soup has been a long and heartfelt one. Pure tomato soup wasn’t a dish that was ever served in my childhood home, so I can only assume that it doesn’t have a firm footing in Greek cooking. We had lentil soups and vegetable soups with tomatoes in them of course, but never the traditional pureed, concentrated, and creamy tomato soup that most of us know and love. The first time I had tomato soup was with my Grandfather, Jay Rustin Schafer, a proud Hoosier and southern Indiana native. He’d have all of us over for lunch or dinner from time to time, and there was always some exciting new dish to be had. He’d make us southern-style potato salad, complete with sliced hard-boiled eggs on top and a pinch of paprika, pulled pork sandwiches on wonderfully white and fluffy buns, and on the occasion of a cool winter’s day, grilled cheese sandwiches with tomato soup for dippin’.
My grandfather was a talented story-teller, and my siblings and I were a rapt audience, so we spent the meals hearing about his childhood in the midwest and his years hanging electrical wires for morse code transmissions in France and Germany during WWII. He’d regale us with his tales, and we listened readily, even if we were too young to understand some of his more adult-themed jokes (I remember a specific instance where he told us he and Grandma got married so that they could finally get some sleep at night…the full meaning of this statement not being completely understood until I was much older.) But in these instances my mom would always draw the line with an “Oh, dad!”, and he’d grin his big sly midwestern smile and continue onwards in his tale.
I think those entertaining afternoons are the reason why I always associate tomato soup with family, comfort, and coziness. And while I usually eat my tomato soups with a side of grilled cheese, I decided to mix all the tomato soup-grilled cheese components all into one, big, glorious skillet. And then I added pasta, and the tomato soup mac and cheese was born. It was a giant step into the unknown, to be sure, but the rewards of this blind leap were plentiful. The little sourdough bread cubes toasted up wonderfully when the whole skillet was roasted inside the oven, and the tomatoes and cheeses blended perfectly into one another. The tomatoes within the soup sweetened up from the stint in the oven, too. There’s just something incredible about the sweet and savory flavor of a roasted tomato, and when you combine that with cheese, sourdough bread bits, and tasty macaroni, you have one heck of a meal on your hands.
When it came to the roasting time, though, I ended up experimenting a bit with the level of toastiness of the mac and cheese. I made two batches, one that I roasted for 30 minutes and the other that I roasted for 45. They were both delicious, but I think I liked the extra crunchy one best just because of the contrasting texture of the crunchy bits and the creamy interior. It’s definitely a personal preference, though, so feel free to roast it anywhere between 30-45 minutes to achieve your desired browning/crunch.
Also, the Saveur Best Food Blog nominations are open and if you could spare a minute or two, it would mean a lot if you could toss Adventures in Cooking in the nominations ring. Oh! And I claimed my blog feeds on Bloglovin and Feedly now, so if you’re subscribing to blogs through either of those readers, come subscribe! I promise there will be many more recipes just as tasty as this one to come in the near future. And lastly, my edible flower workshop is this Saturday and I could not be more excited to see those of you who will be in attendance! There will be loads of good food and I’ll be sharing one of the recipes from the event here, as well, so keep an eye out for a tasty floral recipe coming your way. Hope you’re all enjoying the beginning of spring!
2 tablespoons finely grated Parmesan cheese
Heat the butter in a large skillet over medium heat until completely melted. Add the onion, garlic, peppercorn, bay leaf, and thyme and cook until the onions have softened, about 5-7 minutes. Add the tomato paste and cook for another 5 minutes, stirring every couple of minutes. Add two of the diced tomatoes and stir to combine. Bring the heat down to low and allow the mixture to cook for 30 minutes, or until the tomatoes have softened and broken down slightly, stirring every 5-8 minutes. Pour the mixture into a blender and blend at high speed until a smooth puree forms.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Pour the tomato soup back into the skillet and place back over low heat. Stir in the milk and cream until fully incorporated and the mixture is hot but not boiling. Whisk in the flour until smooth, then stir in the gouda and cheddar and continue stirring until the grated cheese has melted. Now, gently stir in the macaroni and sourdough bread cubes until they are coated with the cheesy tomato soup. Top with the bread crumbs, Parmesan, and black pepper and bake in the oven for 30-45 minutes, or until the macaroni is toasted on top and the bread crumbs are golden brown at the tips. For a crunchier top, lean more towards the 45-minute roasting time (but keep an eye on it, all ovens have their personalities). Remove from oven and allow to cool for 10 minutes before serving.