Rainy Day Comfort Food: Tomato Basil Soup and Grilled Cheese

On rainy days, I always crave something warm and comforting, even in summertime. As the temperature falls to a bearable heat, my mind plays tricks on me and makes me think it's cold and muggy outside, which cues the craving for something that warms my belly and my heart.

Hearty casseroles or potpies usually hit the spot, but because it is summer and most of those meals are wintertime dishes, I crave the best soup-and-sandwich combination known to man, in my humble opinion: tomato basil soup and a grilled cheese sandwich.

Creamy tomato basil soup that has a strong tomato flavor with a crispy, golden and buttery grilled cheese sandwich brightens any rainy day.

As a kid I hated tomato soup; in fact, I hated tomatoes. I was probably one of the pickiest eaters growing up, but I have overcome those childish aversions to what I called "yucky foods" and have learned to appreciate this childhood classic combination. I guess you could say I am reliving a part of my childhood I deprived myself of.

My mom always makes the best tomato basil soup. I've tried to re-create it, but it never comes out like my hers -- it's close, but missing that magic touch. She always watches Food Network, just like me -- like mother, like daughter -- and she discovered the Neely's tomato soup recipe where you roast the tomatoes before pureeing them.

When my mom makes this recipe, she always seasons the roma tomatoes with extra sugar to reduce the acidity and bring out a sweeter tomato flavor. Once the tomatoes are toasted and charred, she sets them aside to cool, while melting butter to sauté shallots. She then adds chicken stock, cayenne pepper, heavy cream and, finally, the roasted tomatoes.

The sweet shallots enhance the sweetness of the tomatoes, while the cayenne pepper heats things up. Reduce the amount of cayenne pepper if you're sensitive to heat or you like a sweeter tomato basil soup.

All you have to do now is puree everything with an immersion blender, season with salt and pepper, chiffonade fresh basil leaves and serve.

Now, it's time for the grilled cheese -- a childhood classic. It's such a simple sandwich, yet so incredibly delicious. Each ingredient plays a crucial role in creating a scrumptious grilled cheese. The bread has to be crispy and buttery and shouldn't overpower the cheese.

I like to use a combo of cheeses for this sandwich. I grew up on American cheese, and I love cheddar cheese, so for a contrast in color I use white American cheese and mild cheddar cheese. Cheddar is my favorite, so after buttering the outsides of the crusty white bread, I add two slices, one on each piece of bread, then place one slice of white American in the middle. The golden cheddar cheese melted with the creamy white American looks beautiful between two slices of toasted, buttery bread.

If the cheddar cheese doesn't melt, split it open after toasting the bread in a skillet and broil for a couple of minutes; that will do the trick.

A bowl of creamy tomato basil soup and an ooey-gooey grilled cheese sandwich warms me up on a rainy summer day.

Readers, what do you crave on a rainy day?

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Molly Dunn
Contact: Molly Dunn