The ultimate childhood comfort food, the grilled cheese sandwich, grows up
Think your taste buds have outgrown the grilled cheese sandwich? Think again. This childhood favorite has evolved into something quite sophisticated. Cheese expert and James Beard award-winner Laura Werlin recently released her second book dedicated to the ultimate comfort food sandwich. Grilled Cheese, Please! 50 Scrumptiously Cheesy Recipes (Andrews McMeel Publishing, Kansas City, Mo.; 184 pages; $16.99/hardcover) takes this classic sandwich to new culinary heights.
“Grilled cheese has evolved with the food movement in America,” Werlin says. “People are looking for natural, local and artisan food these days, and the grilled cheese sandwich has fallen in lockstep. It’s all about using the best ingredients possible.”
The bread and cheese are particularly important, she adds. “It’s so easy to gussy up your sandwich with exotic bread and a high-quality cheese, so why not do it?” Try buttery breads, like croissants or brioche, or a loaf stuffed with olives or walnuts. Look for cheeses that melt well but still deliver great flavor. “There are wonderful melting cheeses, such as cheddar, fontina and gouda,” she adds.
Werlin takes great care with those ingredients, perfecting her grilled cheese method with a series of simple tips:
Grate-ful cheese: Grated cheese melts faster and more evenly than sliced cheese. The grating ensures the perfect melt before the sandwich burns.
Buttered-up bread: Use salted butter for the best flavor, and butter the bread, not the pan. Thinly sliced bread and soft butter work best.
Low and slow: Don’t rush the cooking process. Grill sandwiches slowly over medium heat; carefully watch for maximum melt and crispy bread.
Cover and cook: Cover the sandwich during the cooking process to lock in the heat.
This will help the cheese melt faster and more evenly.
Press, flip, repeat: Use a spatula to press down firmly on the sandwich while cooking; flip the sandwich twice (pressing with each flip) to ensure crisp bread and thoroughly melted cheese.
¼ cup cranberry sauce 4 teaspoons Dijon mustard (or any other pungent mustard) 2 tablespoons butter, at room temperature 8 sandwich-size slices dark rye or marble bread 8 ounces Colby cheese 2 ounces blue cheese, coarsely crumbled In a small bowl, mix the cranberry sauce and mustard together. Spread the butter on one side of each slice of bread. Place 4 slices of bread, buttered side down, on your work surface. Spread the cranberry mixture on the bread. Distribute the Colby and crumble the blue cheese over the Colby. Top with remaining bread slices, buttered side up.
Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium heat for 2 minutes. Put the sandwiches into the pan, cover, and cook for 2 to 3 minutes or until the undersides are have darkened and become crisp. Turn the sandwiches, pressing each one firmly with a spatula to flatten slightly. Cover and cook for 2 to 3 minutes, until the undersides are crisp. Remove the cover, turn the sandwiches once more and press firmly with the spatula once again. Cook for 1 minute, or until the cheese has melted completely.
(You might have to peek inside to make sure.) Remove from the pan and let cool 5 minutes. Cut in half and serve. Makes 4 sandwiches.
Mozzarella with Crispy Prosciutto and Broccoli Rabe
8 thin slices prosciutto (about 4 ounces) ¼ cup olive oil 12 ounces broccoli rabe (about 1 bunch), tough stems removed, and coarsely chopped (or use Swiss chard or Tuscan kale) 1 teaspoon fresh-squeezed lemon juice 1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes 1/8 teaspoon salt 8 sandwich-size slices Italian bread (or use pain au levain or sourdough) 8 ounces mozzarella, coarsely grated (if using fresh mozzarella, drain and slice)
Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium heat and line a plate with paper towels. Add the prosciutto slices (you may need to do this in batches), and cook until browned and crisp, about 2 minutes on each side. Transfer to the paper towels to drain. The prosciutto will become crisper as it cools. Add enough oil to make 2 tablespoons fat in the pan and heat over medium-high heat for 1 minute. Add the broccoli rabe. Cook, stirring occasionally, until soft, tender, and bright green yet caramelized around a few of the edges, 5 to 7 minutes. (Add water to the pan if it seems dry.) Add the lemon juice, pepper flakes and salt and toss to coat. Transfer the broccoli rabe to a plate.
Wipe out the skillet but don’t wash it.
Brush the remaining oil on one side of each slice of bread. Place 4 slices of bread, oil side down, on your work surface. Distribute the broccoli rabe and follow with the prosciutto. Pile the cheese on top, compressing it with your hand if necessary, and top with the remaining bread slices, oil side up.
Reheat the skillet over medium heat for 2 minutes. Put the sandwiches into the pan, cover and cook for 3 to 4 minutes, until the undersides are golden brown. Turn the sandwiches, pressing each one firmly with a spatula to flatten slightly. Cover and cook for 2 to 3 minutes or until the undersides are well browned. Remove the cover, turn the sandwiches once more and press firmly with the spatula once again. Cook for 1 minute or until the cheese has melted completely.
Remove from the pan and let cool 2 to 3 minutes. Cut in half and serve. Makes 4 sandwiches.
For more recipes, visit www.eatwisconsincheese.com.
—Courtesy ARA Content
The Wisconsinite (left) pays homage to several Wisconsin greats: Colby, the Mustard Museum and the abundance of cranberries produced in the state. With mozzarella, crispy prosciutto and broccoli rabe, the sandwich at right is almost as soulful as Italy itself.