While there are many contenders for the title “The Best Thing Since Sliced Bread,” I think that today I highlight one of the most probable winners: the grilled cheese sandwich. Yes, not long after they decided to slice bread, they decided to put cheese between those slices. And not long after that innovation, they decided to heat the sandwich up, thereby toasting the bread and melting the cheese. I think a moment of silent gratitude is in order for this “they.”
Thank you. Now, let’s be honest. Sometimes the American-on-white combo gets a little old. (Not to mention the lack of diversity it promotes.) So here are some ways to “gourmet” your grilled cheese.
1) Change the bread: Try wheat bread, potato bread, rye bread, pita bread, sourdough bread… you get the picture.
2) Change the cheese: I could go on for hours about this one. How about cheddar, provolone, Swiss, mozzarella, brie, gouda, pepperjack… there are a lot of cheeses to keep you busy out there. And who says you can only have one kind of cheese in your sandwich?
3) Add things: like ham, tomatoes, bacon, spinach, asparagus, onions, chipotle sauce, peppers, pepperoni, avocado, a fried egg, pickles — let your imagination run wild!
Some of my favorite combinations: mozzarella, basil, and tomato on ciabatta bread; cheddar cheese and raspberry jam on wheat bread; chicken, provolone, and chipotle mayonnaise.
Feeling really ambitious? Great! Then try out the king of all grilled cheeses: the Croque Monsieur.
This French favorite got its first literary shout-out from Marcel Proust in his monumental(ly long) In Search of Lost Time. I feel like I could give a guess as to where all this lost time went to, like maybe to describing everything he ate? Proust describes eating the sandwich in Paris, and even today, if you happen to be strolling down any rue, boulevard, or avenue in the City of Lights, you can find this sandwich on the menu of most sidewalk bistros.
Because the croque monsieur is such a Parisian classic, there are multitudes of variations on the basic recipe. While I encourage you to seek them out at whim, here I’ll just outline what we can call the original. (But just a hint: adding a fried egg to the sandwich turns it into a Croque-Madame.) This recipe calls for a béchamel sauce (one of the five fundamental sauces of French cooking), ham, and lots of Gruyère cheese. Gruyère is kind of like a mix between Swiss and Parmesan cheeses.
-2 tablespoons butter
-2 tablespoons all purpose flour
-1 1/2 cup milk
-Pinch of ground nutmeg, salt, pepper, to taste
-8 oz. of Gruyère cheese, grated (about 2 cups)
-1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
-6-8 slices of firm white sandwich bread
-8 oz. of thinly sliced ham
Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees.
Make the béchamel sauce: Melt butter over medium heat in a small saucepan. Add flour, stirring constantly. Add milk, and continue stirring with a whisk. Increase heat and cook for two more minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from heat, and add the nutmeg, salt and pepper. Add the Parmesan cheese and 1/2 cup of grated Gruyère.
Toast the bread: Lay the slices of bread on a baking sheet and put them in the oven for a few minutes, until lightly toasted, flipping them halfway through.
Spread mustard on each slice of bread, add a slice of ham, and sprinkle half of the remaining grated Gruyère. Add the other slice of bread on top, pour on the cheese sauce, and sprinkle on the rest of the cheese. Bake the sandwiches in the oven for five minutes, then turn on the broiler for 3-5 minutes, until the cheese on top is bubbling and lightly browned.
Makes 3-4 sandwiches, depending on your cheese to ham to bread ratio. Serve hot.
Whether you want to try this ambitious French grilled cheese or just spice up your mid-afternoon snack, there are many variations you can try. Viva l’grilled cheese! Bon appétit!
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