This may well be my favorite meal. At least, it has all the components of a few of my favorite things. A creamy, rich tomato soup and a biscuit, packed with the flavors of pimento cheese. A match made in heaven, a pairing perfect for the gloomy cold of January.
First off, the combination of two Southern favorites – the buttermilk biscuit and pimento cheese – is ingenious. It truly came to me in the most obvious of ways, like those old peanut butter cup commercials. Standing in front of the open fridge door the night of a holiday brunch party years ago, I spread some pimento cheese on a leftover biscuit, and it hit me that I could save that pesky spreading step and create a one-bite wonder. So I went to work. I doubt I was the first person to think of this, but that’s how I got here. These gems are the perfect pairing for a bowl of soup, but it doesn’t end there. A dab of butter and a little country ham. A dab of butter and some crispy bacon. Make that candied bacon and you are on your way to heaven. I sometimes make these in little cocktail size bites and serve them at parties, either with butter alone, or something yummy tucked inside. I am sure you will find all sorts of ways to enjoy these.
And tomato soup is perhaps the world’s most perfect food. All at once a source of memory and comfort yet infinitely malleable and always new. A good, simple tomato soup recipe is a cornerstone of the kitchen, and this version fits that bill. It is a cinch to whip up but full of flavor. The best thing about a recipe like this, about making your own tomato soup, is that you know exactly what’s in it. No extra sodium, no MSG, no unpronounceable preservatives, just good, honest food. Use quality canned tomatoes, preserved at their peak of freshness, with no added salt or unnecessaries, and you can have this soup anytime. I wouldn’t frown on using frozen diced onions to shorten the prep time. And of course, this is simply seasoned with basil and garlic, but let your mind run wild – any herbs or seasonings that take your fancy. I personally like a smooth soup, so I use the immersion blender, but if chunky is your thing, go for it.
Pimento Cheese Biscuits
I generally cut these into squares to avoid wasting or re-rolling dough, but if you prefer, you can cut them into rounds as you would a regular biscuit. Grate the cheese fresh – pre-grated uses an anti-caking agent.
2 cups all-purpose flour, plus a bit for sprinkling
1 Tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon sweet paprika
½ teaspoon garlic powder
¾ cup (1 ½ sticks) butter, cold
½ cup buttermilk, well-shaken and cold, plus a little for brushing
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 (4-ounce) jar diced pimentos, drained and patted dry
1 cup grated extra sharp cheddar cheese
Sea salt for sprinkling, I prefer Maldon
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Put the flour, baking powder, salt, paprika and garlic powder in the bowl of a stand mixer and stir together with a fork. Cut the butter into small cubes and drop them in the flour. Using the paddle attachment, blend the butter and flour on low speed until the butter is the size of small BBs. You want some butter blended in, but the visible small pieces of butter help make the biscuits fluffy.
Measure the buttermilk in a measuring jug, crack in the egg, add the Worcestershire sauce, and beat it with a fork until the egg is well blended. Keep the mixer on low, dump in the buttermilk and blend just until everything is moist. Toss the cheese with a little flour, and do the same to the pimentos. This step keeps the cheese and pimentos from clumping together so they blend throughout the dough. Drop them both in the mixer and, still on low, beat until everything just starts to come together.
Dump the dough onto a well-floured surface and gently bring it all together, kneading just a few times. Handle with care and don’t overwork the dough, or the biscuits will get tough. A few pimentos may stick to the board or fall out, just stick ‘em back in. Pat the dough into a rectangle about 6 by 10 inches, using the back of a large knife or bench scraper to square off the ends. Flour the knife or scraper and cut the dough into eight squares. Place the biscuits on the prepared baking sheet, lightly brush the tops with a little buttermilk and sprinkle with sea salt.
Bake the biscuits for 15 – 20 minutes, until lightly browned and cooked through. Serve warm, or wrap tightly and store in an airtight container, gently reheat before serving.
Makes 8 biscuits
Creamy Tomato Soup
The addition of baking soda prevents the soup from curdling. I prefer good Italian canned San Marzano tomatoes, with no salt or additives.
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 small onion, or 3 shallots, diced
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 Tablespoon tomato paste
28-ounce can diced tomatoes
1 bunch fresh basil, finely chopped
¼ teaspoon baking soda
3 ½ cups whole milk
Salt and pepper to taste
Heat the olive oil in a large Dutch oven over medium heat, then add the onions and sauté until soft and translucent, but not browning. Drop in the garlic and sauté for a few minutes more. Stir in the tomato paste and diced tomatoes and stir. Add the basil. Stir well, bring to a boil, then lower the heat to a steady simmer. If you prefer a smooth soup, with an immersion blender, or very carefully in a blender in batches, puree the soup base until smooth.
Mix the baking soda with a splash of milk in a small bowl to form a paste. Scrape the paste into the soup, then quickly pour in the milk and stir. The soup will foam up, and that’s fine, it will subside. Heat the soup to until warm throughout, but do not let it boil. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
The soup will keep covered in the fridge for up to two days, but will not freeze. Reheat gently but do not boil.
Serves 6 in small bowls, four in big ones