Grilled cheese sandwiches are kid’s food – everybody knows that. And the recipe is simple: take two slices of white bread (most likely Wonder Bread), one slice of cheese (the individually wrapped kind), and cook in a skillet with margarine until the bread is toasted and the cheese is melty. Oh sure, you might make yourself one from time to time, perhaps on a cold day with a mug of Campbell’s condensed tomato soup, but it’s really the warm comfort of nostalgia that keeps us coming back for more. But there aren’t very many things as tasty as melted cheese on toasted bread, and since we enjoyed talking about grilled cheese a few days ago, we thought we might give you all a few other ideas for making a version that appeals to both your adult tastes and the kid inside.
Our first two versions utilize a really excellent combination of ingredients: tomato, mozzarella, and fresh basil. This is the exact same combo you’ll find on a margherita pizza, or in a Caprese salad. For our first sandwich, we’re using a freshly sliced tomato – Fresh Market in Little Rock just got in a shipment of heirlooms (Cherokee Purples) from Warren, Arkansas, and they were some really good tomatoes, deep purplish-red with a fragrance and flavor that is impossible to find in most supermarket tomatoes. For our second sandwich, we made a puree of oven-dried tomatoes and olive oil. Both sandwiches got a topping of fresh mozzarella and some thin-sliced basil leaves. For our bread, we picked a rather crusty sourdough, but as long as you’ve got a bread stout enough to handle all these ingredients, the choice is yours. To toast the sandwiches, we spread a thin layer of Kewpie mayonnaise on each slice of bread and then browned them over medium heat in a cast iron skillet. The goal is to get the cheese melted and the bread browned – but not to burn the sandwich. The results were great: the fresh tomato sandwich was light and clean tasting, the balance of sweet and tart from the tomato shining through the rich cheese and sweet basil. The tomato puree sandwich was the opposite: deep and intense tomato flavor that settled under the creamy cheese with just a hint of bite from the olive oil.
The idea for our next sandwich came from Chef Peter Brave, who has a similar sandwich on his lunch menu at Brave New Restaurant that we thought was delightful. Chef Brave’s sandwich has shrimp and bacon along with tomato, fontina and baby swiss – and it might be one of my favorite things I’ve ever eaten. This sandwich is an homage to that one: grilled shrimp, more of our excellent heirloom tomatoes, a creamy gouda, and just a sprinkle of sharp cheddar cheese. Once again, we toasted our bread with a little smear of Kewpie. I marinated the shrimp for about ten minutes in lime juice, red pepper, sea salt, and a dash of olive oil, and they had just the perfect bite to stand out against all that melted cheese. Of course, if shrimp isn’t your thing, you could try pancetta, prosciutto, dried salami, or vegetables like grilled asparagus and zucchini. The idea of melted cheese on toasted bread is a wonderful framework on which to build all kinds of delicious sandwiches – and we hope you won’t relegate your grilled cheese to just Kraft singles on light bread ever again. Enjoy!