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Ina Garten’s Easy Tomato Soup & Grilled Cheese Croutons

If ever there was a food that transports us back to childhood with just one sip, it’s tomato soup.

I remember digging a spoon into a deep bowl of that cheerful orange-red, velvety soup as an after-school snack, alongside a stack of saltine crackers. I remember yearning for it on rainy days, especially. And I remember it as the perfect pick-me-up sure to cure any teenage funk.

Of course, back then, my tomato soup did come out of a can.

Now, leave it to Food Network Star Ina Garten to come up with a homemade version of that beloved staple so many of us grew up on. Hers is decidedly more grown-up, yet still maintains the heart and soul we all love about the canned kind.

“Easy Tomato Soup & Grilled Cheese Croutons” is from her latest cookbook, “Barefoot Contessa Foolproof”

Her tomato soup has that touch of sweetness we all love about the canned version, plus so much more. Garten adds saffron to give the soup that wonderful warmth-from-within flavor. She also adds orzo and a touch of heavy cream to give the soup more substance and body.

The best part? The croutons, of course. You make essentially a grilled cheese sandwich in a panini press with grated Gruyere. After the sandwich emerges golden and crusty, you cut it up into bite-sized pieces and scatter them over each bowl of soup. The bread gets a little soft and the cheese gets gooey in the hot soup. It’s sure to make you feel like a kid all over again.

To think I used to settle for just crackers in my tomato soup.

Not any more.

Easy Tomato Soup & Grilled Cheese Croutons

(Serves 4 to 6)

3 tablespoons good olive oil

3 cups yellow onions, chopped (2 onions)

1 tablespoon minced garlic (3 cloves)

4 cups chicken stock

1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes, preferably San Marzano

Large pinch of saffron

Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

1/2 cup orzo

1/2 cup heavy cream

Grilled Cheese Croutons (see recipe below)

In a large pot or Dutch oven such as Le Creuset, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add onions and cook over medium-low heat for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until golden brown. Add garlic, and cook for 1 more minute. Stir in the chicken stock, tomatoes, saffron, 1 tablespoon salt, and 1 teaspoon pepper. Bring soup to a boil, then lower heat and simmer for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, fill a medium pot with water, add 2 teaspoons salt, and bring to a boil. Add orzo and cook for 7 minutes. (It will finish cooking in the soup.) Drain the orzo and add it to the soup. Stir in the cream, return the soup to a simmer, and cook for 10 more minutes, stirring frequently.

Serve hot with Grilled Cheese Croutons scattered on top.

Grilled Cheese Croutons

(Serves 4 to 6)

4 (1/2-inch thick slices country white bread)

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

4 ounces Gruyere cheese, grated

Heat a panini grill. Place four slices of bread on a cutting board and brush lightly with melted butter, being sure to butter the corners. Turn the slices over and pile Gruyere on two of the slices. Place remaining two slices of bread on top of the Gruyere, buttered sides up.

Grill sandwiches on the panini grill for about 5 minutes, until nicely browned. Place on a cutting board, allow to rest for 1 minute and cut into 1-inch cubes.

From “Barefoot Contessa Foolproof” by Ina Garten

More Soup Recipes to Try: Cauliflower Soup with Aged Cheddar & Mustard Croutons by Heidi Swanson

And: Chicken Meatball Soup by Mary Sue Milliken

And: Manhattan Bay Scallop Chowder with Fennel by Melissa Clark