The summer seems infinite until it reaches August.
Then, just like that, it’s back-to-school time.
Sue Barton Piorkowski knows when school day routines get back on schedule, planning dinners can be daunting, so she always comes prepared.
A Pinterest recipe peruser, the Mid Valley School District librarian and gifted program teacher tries to make the classics even more simple. Grilled Cheese and Tomato Soup is a staple that Local Flavor didn’t think could get easier — until we tried Piorkowski’s Grilled Cheese and Tomato Soup Casserole.
Piorkowski happened upon the recipe — which earned her a $50 gift card to Riccardo’s Market, 1219 Wheeler Ave., Dunmore — while searching for something to bring to a potluck at the school.
“I’ll look through all these recipes and kind of pick and choose from each one, plus adding in from my own experience,” she said during a recent afternoon inside the Olyphant home she shares with her husband, Bob, and their children, Liz and John. “And who doesn’t like grilled cheese and tomato soup?”
Piorkowski’s dish isn’t a casserole in the typical sense, where everything is mixed up and baked in a dish. While her meal does bake in the oven, Piorkowski assembles individual sandwiches in the 9-inch-by-12-inch pan by layering Italian bread, then sliced Cooper sharp American cheese, a mix of shredded sharp cheddar cheese and condensed tomato soup (she prefers Campbell’s, straight from the can, without water added), then another slice of bread. She butters the bread to make it nice and crispy. (Piorkowski makes homemade spreadable butter by blending stick butter with grapeseed oil.)
She also adds onions — per fellow teacher Lorna Engler’s suggestion that onions “make grilled cheese taste better” — and chopped bacon for a little extra bite. She sprinkles some shredded Cooper sharp American cheese on top before she broils it.
While the sandwiches consist of smothered, ultra-melty cheese and zesty tomato soup, the bread was crispy and buttery on the outside and soft, not soggy, on the inside. Just like adding grilled cheese croutons to tomato soup, topping thick Italian bread with a cheese and tomato soup mixture is an ingenious way to serve the classic lunch combo.
Piorkowski also suggested that cooks can do variations on the dish, from swapping in garlic bread, provolone, mozzarella, pepperoni and spices to make it Italian-style or pepper jack cheese, diced jalapeño and salsa to create a spicy version.
“There’s so many ways you can do this, and that’s one of the best parts of it,” she said. “Plus, it’s just so easy.”
Quick, simple dinners work best for the Piorkowski family, as they’re always on the move. Her husband works early while her children — Liz will be a junior at Marywood University, and John will be a senior at Mid Valley Secondary Center — both have extracurricular and other activities. Piorkowski plans meals that can easily be put together or saved and reheated later. She makes dozens of kinds of cookies around the holidays and will swap recipes with other teachers. She also creates meals passed through generations or her mom’s recipes that evoke cherished memories.
Just like Grilled Cheese and Tomato Soup Casserole, Piorkowski’s approach in the kitchen is rooted in tradition with inspiration and creativity taken from all around.
Sue Piorkowski’s Grilled Cheese and Tomato Soup Casserole
1 can condensed tomato soup (Piorkowski prefers Campbell’s; do not add water)
8 ounces shredded sharp cheddar cheese
1/3 onion, diced finely
4 or 5 tablespoons high-quality bacon bits ((or home-cooked bacon, chopped)
Can of non-condensed tomato soup (or homemade tomato soup)
1 loaf Italian bread, sliced
Cooper sharp American cheese (sliced to go in between bread; shredded to top sandwiches)
In a bowl, combine condensed tomato soup, shredded sharp cheddar cheese, onion and bacon.
Prepare 9-inch-by-12-inch pan with cooking spray and a drizzle of non-condensed tomato soup. Line with Italian bread. Top Italian bread with sliced Cooper sharp American cheese. Top cheese with soup mixture. Then, butter one side of Italian bread and top sandwich with buttered side up.
Cover with foil. Bake in 450 F oven until cheese bubbles. Bring out of oven and sprinkle more cheddar cheese and Cooper sharp American cheese on top. Drizzle with tomato soup. Put under broiler until top is browned.
Gia Mazur is an award-winning staff writer and beauty obsessive who joined The Times-Tribune’s Lifestyles department in 2015. She’s a product enthusiast who can’t live without an eyelash curler. A proud Virgo, Charlotte Tilbury Matte Revolution Lipstick in Pillow Talk is her go-to. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; 570-348-9127; @gmazurTT