Ina Fridays — Sides, Soups, and Salads– Easy Tomato Soup with Grilled Cheese Croutons

Since I’m writing a soup cookbook, I’m always interested in soups others make.  Not only family, friends, and neighbors, but also famous cooks like Ina Garten.  If I’m home and I’ve been working all day, I’m in front of the tv with my feet up at 3:00 Central Time when Ina makes one of  her appearances on Food Network’s Barefoot Contessa.  While doing a little background reading for this post, I discovered this on FOOD NETWORK’S “10 Things You Didn’t Know about the Barefoot Contessa”:

She’s never watched herself on TV. “I couldn’t possibly. If I watched a show, I don’t think I’d ever do it again,” she laughs. “Filming is still the most frightening thing I’ve done. It’s just sheer terror. I haven’t gotten used to it yet.”

Of course, it doesn’t matter to me whether or not she watches herself, but I get it.  As a longtime singer and choir director, I cannot stand to hear a recording of me singing.  In fact, I don’t like performing as a soloist; I’d rather direct.  So Ina’s words resonate with me.

Another comment she made was about cooking from recipes; she always cooks from her own books.  She doesn’t wing it at all.

“I trust them,” she says. And after all these years, she still prefers a recipe over winging it. “I’m a science person. I measure everything.”        Read more here.

 That, I don’t get.  I absolutely cook by the end of my apron strings nearly always.  I dream things up daily despite a huge shelf full of cookbooks.  Dave, my husband, says, “That was good.  Do you think we’ll ever have it again?!”  For instance:

Here’s my Ovenbaked Vegetable Soup with Poached Egg

This week, our group of veteran food bloggers is cooking up all Ina “S’s” — Soups, Sides, or Salads.  My choice was:

easy tomato soup with grilled cheese croutons

The simplest of soup ingredients (onions, garlic, chicken broth, tomatoes, orzo, cream) make up the bulk of this quick soup and, while the soup (all rights reserved) is part of Ina’s newest book, FOOLPROOF, you can also get the recipe on the Barefoot Contessa site. The most unusual aspect of this soup is its use of saffron, that lovely warm floral seasoning made from the stigma of croci, or crocuses if you will:

  CROCUS:  a small, spring-flowering plant of the iris family, which grows from a corm and bears bright yellow, purple, or white flowers.  (Oxford English Dictionary.)

So:  What did I think?  It was tasty, tasty……….

Overall, a lovely, basic and inexpensive tomato soup made more filling with the addition of orzo, small rice-like pieces of pasta.  The grilled cheese croutons were cute and yummy–a great idea and a fun addition.  You just make a grilled cheese and cut it into 1-inch segments. 

I’ll admit I had to change a few things in the soup AND the croutons for personal reasons…

CROUTONS:   Ina’s white bread, 2 T butter, and 4 ounces of cheese were changed to whole wheat, 1 teaspoon butter, and one thin slice of cheese so that I could eat it without going off program.  
  •  The fragrant saffron was lost on me as the tomatoes were almost overwhelming in their sweetness. (At least mine were. ) Making it another time, I would increase the amount of saffron.  Ina’s “large pinch,” might become two. 
  •  I cut the salt in the interest of health, but also in the interest of taste– from one tablespoon to one and a half teaspoons. Salt, like sugar, cuts acidity; acidity, however wasn’t the problem.
  •  I included the entire amount of black pepper, one teaspoon, but pretty much wished I’d put in a pinch of crushed red pepper despite the warm mouth buzz left when dinner was done.  Of course, I’m addicted to crushed red pepper.
Saffron threads from Penzey’s
  •  I skipped the heavy cream and instead topped my soup with a little spoonful of  plain Greek yogurt as I’m watching my caloric intake. (I’m on Weight Watchers.)  Just to see, however, I did try one single spoonful with the cream to see if it dulled the sweetness of the tomatoes.  No.  Not so much.  It was creamy and luscious, of course!  I think I’d do without if I had to choose.
  • One last thing:  as the soup sat, the orzo grew AND GREW (as pasta will do in soup) and, by the time it cooled enough for me to refrigerate it, the pasta was dominant.  Pretty much appeared to be pasta and sauce in the pot.  There are two possibilities:  one, use a small orzo (there are different sizes) or use less.

What’s cool about this is you have pretty much a little pot of sweet marinara with tiny pasta--and it’s good.  And it’s not nearly as caloric as a big plate of spaghetti, yet you still get the whole deal taste-wise.  This soup is also darned quick.  You could be eating in forty minutes total, including grilling the sandwiches.   Family-friendly, leftovers would make great lunches at work or school.  A little hot sauce and your big-eater guy friend would be swooning.  Is it foolproof?  I’d say so. Yes, I’d agree; she’s definitely got that down.  Just watch the salt.

Would you like it?  Yes, I’m sure you would.  Is it a recipe you can trust?  It says  you can on the front cover of the book.  Definitely.  Trust it.  But make it your own.

What else might you do?   

You might brown up  a couple of links of top-flight Italian sausage (slice it) and either use it for a “crouton” instead of the grilled cheese or add it to the sandwich.  If you’d like something green (imagine), chop up a half cup each of fresh basil and spinach and stir in for the last minute or two (having left out the saffron.)  You would definitely have a good glass of zin or reserve Chianti along side.  You’d probably skip dessert.  I think you’d be full.

stop in and see what our fine writers are cooking up on the first Friday of each month:

Are you a food blogger?  Want to join in one time a month? Email Alyce @  or link in to join us once in a while (click on blue oval link button at bottom and follow prompts) only if you’re blogging Ina!  We’d love to have you.

If you like this, you might like 


or my Tomato Soup Faster Then You Can Say Grilled Cheese

… … … … … … … … … … …
Fight Hunger Due to Sequester Cuts–Get Involved:

I follow a fine blog called Leave It Where Jesus Flang It, written by the Rev. Margaret Watson, pastor for nine congregations on the Cheyenne River Reservation.  Sequester cuts have left  her elderly, handicapped, and grandparents (who are raising children) in a very troubling situation, unable to pay bills or buy food.  Children are at risk, as well.  If you click on the blog link, you’ll see the letter she’s written her congressional representatives.  If you’d like to help ease this situation, read the blog and write your own representatives or leave a comment asking how you might help directly.  Donations, of course, are always accepted by the mission.

Here are some excerpts from Margaret’s letter:

I cannot afford to feed all the people who come to my door asking for help. I have emptied my own freezer, my own cupboard in order to help these desperate folks.

In the last six months, I have done 40 funerals –six infants, two teen suicides, and many, many folks under the age 40.

Don’t punish the children and the elderly and the poor and the disabled by cutting the programs that at least keep them alive at poverty levels. 

I can only say I am shocked and depressed by my own government. Do better than this. The people you are supposed to serve deserve better.

Sing a new song;

Pear-Grilled Fig Salad with Goat Cheese

 There are moments when I’m aware enough of the blessed goodness in my life.  Maybe.  I know not everyone has a counter full of butternut squash, apples, onions, shallots, garlic, hundreds (literally) of tiny green and red tomatoes, and Bosc pears.  I know not everyone has a warm snug lying next to them come the cold, dark morning.  Or a reason to get up and do something with the bounty in the kitchen downstairs.  I probably don’t truly understand it, but I get it.  My life hasn’t been all rose teacups and long walks along the river with the dogs.

This morning I read a post on a blog I follow (there’s a link in my blogroll at right, too).

leave it where jesus flang it

Margaret writes daily there.   It’s a prayer journal of sorts.  She’s an Episcopal priest on an Indian reservation in South Dakota and life’s hard there.  The loss and the poorness and the hurt are hardscabble painful and it’s her job to keep showing up for the difficult moments and beyond.  Today she writes about people nearby whose babies have just died…  And (having had babies who died) I understand where this is and where it goes.  What I am drawn to these many years later is twofold:

1. why…if we need each other so very badly through the crazy, hilarious, dipping, winding, bottoming-out life trek, and if church is meant to provide that for us…why are so many of us no longer part of that community?   Or, if we are a part, are those communities truly sustaining us? and 2.  a bursting grateful noise for all I have and all those who have loved me through the nearly killing losses.   I come back to the idea that to begin with thanksgiving is a perfect way to pray/live and I have to learn it all over again, all over again, all over again.   Even if God isn’t a welcomed presence in your life, I think the settling of near-constant thanksgiving in our bodies is a positive way to breathe on earth.

Ok, well, yup———-


I’m grateful  to share a beautiful fall salad with you…speaking of that.  I often cook on the “Meatless Monday” protocol because it’s healthy and it makes sense to me.  It’s also a way to make me concentrate on most of the food on earth and, well, most of it isn’t meat.

I spent yesterday late afternoon re-testing a soup for my book (Roasted Vegetable Soup with Sage) and as I got the soup nearly finished thought to make a little salad out of what I had.

Which was beautiful Bosc pears, goat cheese leftover from a dinner for friends last Friday night (I grilled figs and filled them with goat cheese, a drizzle of honey, fresh thyme and black pepper), and some arugula.  Sigh.  Here’s how:

pear – grilled fig salad with goat cheese, walnuts, and arugula

serves 2 -3

  • 3 cups arugula
  • 2 ripe Bosc pear, cored and sliced (don’t peel)
  • 2 ounces crumbled Goat cheese (leave out for vegan option)
  • 1/4 cup chopped toasted walnuts (just put them in a small dry skillet for a few min.)
  • 4 fresh figs cut in half and briefly grilled* (or 4 chopped dried figs)
  • Juice of half an orange
  • 1/2 teaspoon sherry vinegar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon walnut oil
  • kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper 

In a medium shallow bowl, place arugula and top with pears and goat cheese.  Scatter walnuts around the edges of the salad and add the figs at even intervals.  Drizzle all with the juice, vinegar, and oil.  Sprinkle evenly with a pinch each of salt and pepper.  Place bowl on table to admire your handiwork before tossing.  Serve at room temperature.  (If you need to make this ahead and refrigerate, you’ll want to add the pears–which would brown otherwise– and the dressing at the last minute.  It’ll taste fine cold.)

*To grill fresh figs:  Lightly brush a grill, grill pan, or small skillet with a bit of olive oil.  Trim stems from figs and slice in half.  Place figs cut side down in pan and grill over medium heat just a couple of minutes.  Turn and grill on the other side.  Note:  How long you grill these will depend on how ripe they are.  The riper, the less grilling–   If terribly ripe, don’t grill at all.

I ponder here at the idea of saying “grace.”  I think grace is a difficult word to define and how it is we come to SAY it, I don’t know.  We also “say a blessing.”  Or “give thanks.”  Or “bless the food.”  Someone, somewhere I was, said a blessing I can’t forget the gist of, but can’t recall the exact words.  The idea was to be grateful for the food and for the nourishment to enable us to feed those without.
I’ll think about it.  (If you know that blessing, leave it in a comment.)

A thought:  the blessing is also a moment to breathe in an otherwise complicated, swiftly flowing existence.  To pray and– to eat– in the moment.  To be truly awake and aware of what’s before us and what will sustain us.  To be grateful for loving, preparing hands, the instinct to love,  the time to eat, and for the abundance.

Phew.  My blog is different today.  Beautiful fall winds and smiles to you,

P.S. COMING TO A CHURCH NEAR YOU!  (MAYBE)  I think I forgot to share that our daughter  Emily is officially ready to receive a call from the Presbyterian Church, USA.  After over three years in seminary, she preached to the Committee on Preparation for Ministry (maybe I got that right) last Monday and they pronounced her READY. 

Speaking of being grateful