Less is more with this easy tomato soup and grilled cheese

Grilled cheese illustration for the "How to boil water" series.
(Caroline Marks / For The Times)

With so many of you having to stay home and cook for the first time — ever or more than you have in a long time — we get that it can be overwhelming to have to cook all your meals from scratch. So we’re here to get you started. Each day we’re going to post a new skill here and go into detail about how to do it — a resource for cooking basics so you can get food on the table and get through this.

A series of simple tutorials for making some basic recipes at home.

Lesson 38: Creamy Tomato Soup With Grilled Cheese

Last week, my youngest daughter, Charlotte, said, “You know, I’m actually learning how to cook from these How to Boil Water thingies.” It makes sense since she is the one holding the camera and reading viewer questions during the Instagram Live sessions.


Tomato soup with grilled cheese sandwiches is one of her favorite combos, so this lesson’s for her. I’ve concluded that less is more with homemade tomato soup. This formula has only four ingredients plus oil and salt. Canned whole peeled San Marzano tomatoes are the way to go, but other whole or diced canned tomatoes work too.

The key to good tomato soup is patience. As with marinara sauce, you have to wait for the tomatoes to simmer into sweetness; the long and low bubbling mellows the fruit’s acidity. The only trick to it is to stir in the cream at the end and make sure to not to boil the soup and cause it to curdle. But when it’s in that steaming-hot just-made state, it’s perfect for dipping that grilled cheese in. (It’s also delicious cold from the fridge or reheated.)

Homemade tomato soup and a grilled cheese sandwich
(Genevieve Ko / Los Angeles Times)

While you wait, you can make a grilled cheese to dip in it. I prefer it kid-style: cheddar and American on white sandwich bread; the bread spread with mayo to get it crisp and brown. You have to cook this slowly over low heat too for the cheese to melt before the bread gets too dark. As with the soup, the wait is worth it.

Creamy Tomato Soup

Time1 hour, largely unattended
YieldsServes 4

A cook’s note:

Whether you decide to add chiles or herbs to this soup, you’ll always start with sweating onion. On its own, onion provides enough sweetness to balance the acidity of tomatoes. If you want the soup even sweeter, toss diced carrot or sweet potato into the mix. Sweating is a term used in professional kitchens to refer to cooking an ingredient, often onion, until tender and translucent without letting it take on any color. The process sweetens them while retaining their allium aroma. Sweating falls between the quicker method of sauteeing onions, which browns them at the edges while keeping a little crunch, and the slower technique of caramelizing, which browns them all the way through to a nearly sugary state.