Tomato Garlic Soup with Grilled Cheese Croutons

A childhood favorite combination – now with a little sophistication. The perfect kind of comfort food together in one bowl of soup. Redesigned with a lingering mellow garlic essence.

An updated combination for today’s palate. Credit: Karen Sheer

An updated combination for today’s palate. Credit: Karen Sheer

Rustic Tomato Soup with extra garlic and grilled cheese croutons. Credit: Karen Sheer

Rustic Tomato Soup with extra garlic and grilled cheese croutons. Credit: Karen Sheer

While tasting this soup, many will be immediately transported to your childhood kitchen – when you enjoyed Campbell’s Tomato Soup with a side of Grilled Cheese (on fluffy Wonder Bread with oozing Kraft Cheese Slices.) We have learned a lot about nutrition in the last 50 years… the health dangers of too much sodium and processed foods.

In testing this recipe, I wanted a soup with a bright tomato flavor, with a lingering garlic edge – I’m just back from the annual 2016 Hudson Valley Garlic Festival with loads of freshly dug garlic at my disposal.

By adding a good dose of garlic, onions and leeks, no heavy cream is necessary – the soup will blend to a beautiful color, with a creamy texture, while still letting the tomato flavor shine.

The best quality ingredients will produce the brightest soup with a natural flavor. San Marzano Tomatoes from a can are the best quality, as their color is deep, they have thick, sturdy walls and they do not contain preservatives… just tomatoes, puree and sometimes basil leaves.

Did you know: most commercial brands of canned tomatoes contain: Calcium Chloride, Citric Acid and Natural Flavorings! Ugh!! I have been reading labels – and you should too. A popular brand of California canned plum tomatoes, that has the “organic” and “non gmo stamp” contains citric acid and calcium chloride! The Italians, (and Europeans) value the absence of preservatives much better than we do in the US.

Look for good quality canned tomatoes with nothing but tomatoes as ingredients. Below, on the right “San Marzano Tomatoes*,” and on the left “Italian Peeled Plum Tomatoes – both fabulous quality without preservatives.

Ingredients in the soup are: tomatoes, tomato paste, garlic, leeks, onions, chicken or vegetable stock, tomato juice (puree) and some seasonings. With a good dose of alliums, (garlic, onions, leeks) the soup will blend up with a creamy tomato color.. with no dairy cream at all.
The soup is vegan… with croutons – it’s vegetarian.

I like to blend half of the soup, and leave the other half a little chunky. The texture of the soup is up to you… blend the whole batch to a smooth consistency if you prefer.

The Grilled Cheese Croutons are a snap to make. I cook them in homemade garlic oil instead of butter – and they are delicious! Crispy outside and oozing with sharp, aged cheddar inside. Use a natural cheddar cheese here – I bought mine in a cheese shop as I love an aged cheddar, that has a little crystallization and is a little crumbly.

I chose sourdough sliced bread, and cut off the crusts. Add the croutons just before serving and the bottoms will absorb the soup and soften perfectly.

*The San Marzano Tomato, a variety of plum tomato grows in the rich volcanic soil of the Sarno River valley in Italy, near Mount Vesuvius, resulting in a sweet flesh with low acidity. Its thick skin makes it easy to peel off. Plus, it’s meatier than Romas and other plums, and has fewer seeds.

Enjoy this comforting meal!

Ingredients for the soup. Credit: Karen Sheer

Ingredients for the soup. Credit: Karen Sheer

Garlic I purchased form the 2016 Hudson Valley Garlic Festival. Credit: Karen Sheer

Garlic I purchased form the 2016 Hudson Valley Garlic Festival. Credit: Karen Sheer

Make Grilled Cheese Croutons in homemade garlic flavored oil. Credit: Karen Sheer

Make Grilled Cheese Croutons in homemade garlic flavored oil. Credit: Karen Sheer

Recipe: Tomato Garlic Soup with Grilled Cheese Croutons


  • 5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided 
  • 2 medium onions, 1 1/2 cups, 1/2″ dice
  • ¼ cup fresh garlic, about 6 cloves, sliced thin
  • 1 cup fresh leeks, whites and light greens, cleaned, sliced thinly
  • 2 cups tomatoes*, from canned Italian”San Marzano,” large dice 
  • ¼ teaspoon fresh cracked black pepper
  • ¼ teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1 pinch ground cloves
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 3 cups vegetable broth, or chicken broth, preferably homemade
  • 3 cups tomato juice (puree) from “san marzano” cans, strained
  • ½ teaspoon sea salt, or to taste (will depend on saltiness of broth)


Add 3 T. of olive oil to a heavy soup pot. Set heat to medium- low and add the onions and the garlic. Give a stir and cook them slowly for 5 minutes until translucent, but not colored. Add the leeks, turn heat down to low and cover for 5 minutes until all are softened. Remove the vegetables to a small bowl.

Add 2 T. olive oil, set heat to medium-high. When hot, add the drained and tomatoes cook until they have started to color around the edges, stirring, about 5 minutes (will add a nice roasted flavor to the soup.)
Add the pepper, smoked paprika, cloves and tomato paste, stir in. Cook for 2 minutes, stirring.

Add the broth and tomato juice (puree.) Stir well, bring to a boil. Now, turn down the heat to low, add the reserved vegetables and cover. Cook at a bare simmer for 30 minutes. Cool slightly. Add half of the soup to a blender, and whirl until smooth. Add it to the chunky soup and stir to combine.

If you like, you can puree the whole batch of soup; I like it smooth, with some texture.

Serve warm and garnish with chopped chives and marjoram sprigs. Chopped parsley, basil leaves and tarragon would compliment as well.

Top with “grilled cheese croutons” – and some extra garlic if you like (see recipe.)

* I’ve used 2, 28 ounce cans of Italian San Marzano whole plum tomatoes. Strain the juice (puree) and reserve 3 cups – use remainder for another recipe.
Gently remove seeds and juice from the tomatoes, squeeze dry, and coarsely chop them – you will have 2 cups of chopped tomatoes.

Grilled Cheese Croutons:
2 slices sour dough bread, or your favorite (crusts removed)
2 slices aged cheddar cheese (to fill the bread)
1 T. extra virgin olive oil
2 small garlic cloves, peeled, thinly sliced
A pinch of sea salt

Add the olive oil to a small 8″ skillet. Set heat to low and add the garlic. Leave to flavor the oil for 5 minutes – do not color the garlic. Remove the garlic to a plate and reserve.

Top a slice of bread with the cheese; add the other slice of bread and press down.

Add the sandwich to the skillet, then turn over with a spatula so both sides of the bread are equally oiled. Raise the heat to medium and cook until golden and crispy and golden, about 3 minutes, turn over and repeat.

Place the sandwich on a cutting board. Let cool 5 minutes, then cut into even 3/4″ squares.
Serve on the hot tomato soup. May top the soup with the reserved garlic.

This recipe may not be reproduced without the consent of its author, Karen Sheer

  • Karen Sheer lives and cooks in Greenwich. She is a professional chef, writer, caterer, photographer and food consultant specializing in original recipes. Her blog is “A Zest For Life”– Karen’s Obsession with Food and Style. Each recipe is inventive, original and well tested. Karen’s recipes are written to give you the feeling she is in the kitchen with you coaching step by step. Health and wellness are her passions. Karen’s recipes promote fresh, local ingredients which lead to a healthier lifestyle!


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