As lingering summer days of September give way to the cool crisp air of October, I’m still finding a few tomatoes ripening in the garden. As much as I love the fall season on Cape Cod, I know I’m going to miss those fresh, sweet, summer tomatoes plucked straight from the vine and eaten as is, its juices exploding with months of stored sunshine.
These few and final meaty heirlooms will be delicious sliced thick and eaten with just a touch of salt, maybe a drizzle of Spanish olive oil and the last of our fresh basil. Or, we can make it the star of our favorite sandwich…..grilled cheese and tomato.
The creamy, slightly salty taste of cheese and the acid rich tomato have long been paired together in many flavor combos. I have fond memories of the classic grilled cheese sandwich that Mom used to make. A slice of orange processed American cheese melted between two slices of soft, white Wonder Bread. Gobs of margarine slathered on the outside to produce a buttery flavored, crisp exterior. Always comforting and most often accompanied with a bowl of Campbell’s condensed tomato soup….with whole milk added, never water…..and a fistful of crushed Ritz crackers to top it off.
Like macaroni and cheese and hot dogs, grilled cheese is nostalgic and in hard economic times we tend to return to those comforting foods we knew as a child.
So, I went in search of a grilled cheese and tomato recipe. Wait. I need a recipe for grilled cheese? Who doesn’t know how to make grilled cheese?
As much as I have that childhood staple ingrained in my DNA, I tend to have more sophisticated tastes these days and am a bit more adventurous in experimenting with flavors. It seems I’m not alone in my quest for gourmet nostalgia. There has been a resurgence of interest in the grilled cheese sandwich. Specialty restaurants have been popping up all over the country. From the American Grilled Cheese Kitchen in San Francisco to Feelgood in Austin and Cheeseboy in Boston, the grilled cheese restaurant is hot.
But, if you can’t find a trendy new restaurant to satisfy your cheesy desires, read on…..
There are several ways to cook a grilled cheese sandwich. I have a favorite Lodge cast iron pan that I use for everything and it gives great results. But more recently I’ve used my Swiss Diamond non stick pan. It has a surface that nothing will stick to, so I can use less butter and you just wipe it clean. Unlike a lot of other nonstick pans, because of its surface made of crushed diamonds, it still gives a crispness to the surface of the bread. I’m also dying to try the Emile Henry ceramic grilling stone that you can use right on your outdoor grill. If you’re making grilled cheese for a crowd, you can even cook them in the oven on a cookie sheet.
Hungry yet? I’ve done some of the work for you and found lots of recipes online for grilled cheese sandwiches, adding things you may never have thought of, like cinnamon and apple.
But here is a favorite of mine.
Grown Up Farmhouse Grilled Cheese Sandwich
• 8 thin slices pancetta or prosciutto
• 8 slices brioche, or other artisanal bread about 1/2-inch thick
• 4 ounces sharp white Cheddar, thinly sliced (recommended: Farmhouse)
• 1 large heirloom tomato, cut into 4 slices
• Kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper
• 3 tablespoons butter, room temperature
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Set a rack on a rimmed baking sheet.
Lay the pancetta slices on the rack on the baking sheet and bake until crisp, 15 to 18 minutes.
Meanwhile, set your toaster to a low setting and toast the brioche slices, (they should be slightly dry but not brown).
Lay 4 slices lightly toasted brioche on a work surface and cover the slices with half the cheese, followed by a slice of tomato. Season each sandwich with a pinch of salt and a healthy grind of black pepper. Top each with 2 pancetta rounds and the remaining cheese. Lay the remaining brioche slices on top and press down lightly. Butter the top of each sandwich with 1/2 tablespoon butter.
Heat a large griddle pan over medium heat.
Melt the remaining tablespoon butter on the griddle pan and add the sandwiches, buttered side up. Cook until the bread is golden brown and the cheese is beginning to melt. Flip the sandwiches, press lightly, and continue cooking until golden and toasty. Transfer to a cutting board and slice the sandwiches with a serrated knife, on the diagonal. Arrange on a serving platter and serve immediately. Great with homemade pickles!