PaninoLog: Grand Grilled Cheese


The PaninoLog returns -- this time with a grilled cheese sandwich inspired by master cheesemonger Steven Jenkins, author of The Cheese Primer, who is participating this week in an online Q&A at eGullet.

In response to a question about what kind of cheese to use to make great macaroni and cheese, Mr. Jenkins went on a riff about grilled cheese sandwiches (noting, "you asked me about mac and cheese but my brain read grilled cheese"):

I am particularly partial to the grilled cheese sandwich my wife and I raised our boy Max on: Open-faced slice of bread spread with sweet butter or olive oil liberally sprinkled with grated Parmigiano Reggiano, placed horizontally in the toaster oven until the Parm bubbles, cut into triangles. I am equally smitten by the conventional closed-face grilled cheese sandwich using sourdough or rye or whole-grain slices and shredded mountain cheeses such as the following spectaculars: Beaufort from Savoie, Fontina d'Aosta from Aosta, Comte from Franche-Comte, raclette cheese from either of these two regions, any Basque sheep's milk cheese (Erhaki, Matocq, Ossau-Iraty, Etorki, Prince de Claverolles), Roncal from Navarra. Certainly Swiss Gruyere or Emmental or Appenzeller figure, though they're way down my preference list. Also Asiago from the Veneto, Majorero (unlike the rest of these, Majorero from Fuenteventura in the Canaries is NOT a raw milk cow's milk cheese, but is a raw milk goat's milk cheese), Sao Jorge (St. George, a sharp cow's cheese from the Portuguese Azores).

I have to admit to being pretty simple in my taste for grilled cheese sandwiches. I rarely eat them, but when I do, the filling is usually a few slices of cheddar. But, after reading Mr. Jenkins' comments, a whole new world opened to me.

I considered using Comté, but in a taste test before purchasing, Beaufort, which has a distinctly nutty, tangy, and sweet flavor, was the superior cheese. At $20 a pound, this was an extravagant choice (double the price of Comté). In the end, it worked out to about $2.50 a sandwich (two ounces per) -- at least this was less than what you would spend in a restaurant.

I followed Mr. Jenkins' instructions on how to make the sandwich, starting with sourdough bread ("Both sides of the bread are spread with sweet butter"), to which I added slices of an amazingly ripe, purple-red heirloom tomato ("occasionally a slice of tomato") and grated Beaufort ("the cheese is always shredded, not place aboard in slices"). I skipped his addition of hot sauce and sprinkled the sandwich with freshly ground pepper before placing it in the panini press.

The nutty and sweet Beaufort, which melted from a pile of shreds into a single layer of molten cheese, contrasted with the cool, fresh sliced tomato and the textural crunch of the toasted bread. This may be the perfect grilled cheese sandwich. Beaufort will break the bank, but there's no turning back to cheddar.

BEFORE AND AFTER Beaufort from Savoie and heirloom tomatoes (below) are the main ingredients in an extravagant grilled cheese sandwich (above).

beaufort heirloom


Runner-Up: Tartine with Raspberries, Mascarpone, and Honey


Before settling on the Tartine with Bacon, Avocado, and Mâche as The Food Section official entry in Is My Blog Burning? The Tartine Edition, the test kitchen also experimented with a sweet tartine based on a recipe from Viana La Place's Panini, Bruschetta, Crostini: Sandwiches, Italian Style for bruschetta topped with mascarpone, raspberries, and honey.

To make the tartine, lightly butter and grill a slice of round country bread, let cool slightly, and spread with a layer of sweet and creamy mascarpone. Top with fresh raspberries and drizzle with honey.

The combination of warm and crunchy bread, fresh mascarpone, and sweet berries made for a fantastic breakfast (and a solid runner-up).

n.b.: This tartine could probably be repeated as a (healthier and lighter) regular breakfast by skipping the butter and spreading the grilled bread with a thinner layer of mascarpone.


Is My Blog Burning? Tartine with Bacon, Avocado, and Mâche


For my entry in the second installment of Is My Blog Burning?, I adapted a recipe from Nancy Silverton's Sandwich Book for a bacon, avocado, and watercress sandwich.

The challenge, as presented by Clotilde, was to create a tartine, which she defined as an open-faced sandwich topped with a spreadable ingredient and artfully-arranged toppings. To meet these guidelines, I altered Ms. Silverton's recipe, which calls for layering slices of avocado on top of bacon and watercress. Instead, I crushed the avocado with a fork, blending it with lemon juice, olive oil, salt, and pepper, to make a spreadable base in which to embed the rest of the toppings. But, I am jumping ahead.

First, I took a slice of round country bread, spread both sides lightly with butter, and grilled it. When the bread was grilled to a light golden brown, I removed it from the panini press and rubbed the top with a raw clove of garlic. Then, I spread a generous layer of the avocado mixture across the bread and topped it with two slices of crisp bacon. Between the bacon strips, I carefully inserted tender, baby leaves of mâche (which I substituted for the watercress because they looked so much better and fresher at the store). You may not be able to tell from the picture, but I think this made for an aesthetically-arranged sandwich, with the bacon, lettuce, and avocado forming their own defined zones of color and texture. But, more importantly, the tartine was delicious!

Thanks to Clotilde for launching this international tartine-a-thon!


PaninoLog: Brioche with Chocolate


For nearly a year, we have had a New York Times article (link) hanging from our refrigerator door that describes a sweet, pressed sandwich served at the Chickenbone Cafe in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. The paper has yellowed over time, but you can still make out the photo, which depicts a grilled sandwich of brioche and chocolate, served with a side of "slaw" made of candied citrus zest.

I did not make the slaw, but I did successfully replicate the sandwich at home. To make this simple dessert (or indulgent breakfast), pile shaved semisweet chocolate between two thick slices of brioche loaf, spread a thin layer of butter on the outside, and grill the sandwich in the press until the bread is golden brown and the chocolate has melted. Serve with fresh whipped cream.

Editor's Note: With this fourth installment of the PaninoLog (four posts in five days), The Food Section now returns to its regularly scheduled programming. Future grilled sandwich posts will occur on an ad hoc basis, as the inspiration strikes.


PaninoLog: Country Bread with Artichoke and Fontina


I was looking for inspiration for the third installment of the PaninoLog, and I found it on the menu of 'ino, the West Village panini bar that led the wave of sandwich bars that have sprouted up across Manhattan and Brooklyn over the past few years. Perusing 'ino's offerings online (pdf), I came across an artichoke, fennel, and fontina panino that sounded like a fantastic combination.

I've been to 'ino, but never had this sandwich, so I improvised on the details. Skipping the fennel, I layered slices of fontina and grilled artichoke hearts from Grace's Marketplace between two slices of organic country white bread from Amy's Bread, then brushed the outer layers of the sandwich with olive oil and placed it in the grill. The result: a crunchy grilled cheese sandwich with an Italian pedigree. Another successful sandwich endeavor accomplished.


PaninoLog: Croissant with Dulce de Leche


The subject of the second installment in the PaninoLog is a sweet pressed sandwich, inspired by the grilled croissant with dulce de leche served at Union Square bakery/cafeteria City Bakery.

The press ends up crushing the thin layers of the pastry, but the resulting sandwich is crisp and flaky on the outside, while the heat from the grill just begins to melt the thick dulce de leche on the inside.

To re-create the sandwich at home, simply slice a croissant in half, spread it with a generous layer of dulce de leche (from a jar, or if you are ambitious, homemade), lightly brush the outside with butter, and grill until golden brown.


PaninoLog: Pizza Bianca with Robiola and White Truffle Oil


With a successful test run of the latest addition to The Food Section test kitchen, I have been experimenting with variations on the pressed sandwich theme.

The first installment in this PaninoLog is inspired by pizza with robiola cheese and white truffle oil, which I first tasted at Sapori d'Ischia, an Italian market/restaurant located on the industrial fringe of Woodside, Queens.

The pizza consists of a baked crust that is split, stuffed with a layer of fresh robiola, and drizzled with truffle oil. It's essentially a giant sandwich of sorts, so it lends itself to paninadaptation [note: this is not a real word].

To make the panino version of the pizza, I took a rectangular piece of Sullivan Street Bakery pizza bianca, carefully sliced the bread in half, and spread the inside with fresh robiola. Placing the other piece of bread on top, I lightly brushed both exterior sides with truffle oil and then grilled the sandwich in the panini press. Within minutes, the press produced a thin, crisp sandwich oozing with the creamy, melted robiola and the earthy essence of the truffle oil.