“Many’s the long night I’ve dreamed of cheese — toasted, mostly” Robert Louis Stevenson famously wrote. I share his feelings. Gorgeous, gooey melted cheese is still the top go-to comfort food in my book when Jack Frost is nipping toes and all you want to do is hibernate underneath the duvet.
“Grilled Cheese: Traditional and inspired recipes for the ultimate toasted sandwich”
By Laura Washburn. Ryland, Peters & Small, 2014, 64 pages
» Click here to buy the book
I think Stevenson would have enjoyed this small but perfectly formed volume on the art of the ultimate toasted sandwich. The toastie with the mostie can only be made with cheese as the author so wisely knows. It is a universal truth: Grilled cheese never disappoints.
Laura Washburn was born in Los Angeles, studied in Paris, trained at La Varenne and worked with Patricia Wells. She now lives in London, where she works as a cookery teacher and food writer, and she has brought her international experience and professional skills to bear on this seemingly simple equation of cheese, bread and pan.
The wonderful thing about this basic trinity is that it can be equally good — depending on mood and moment — whether toasted sliced white bread and ersatz block cheese satisfies a case of the munchies at midnight, or Poilâne sourdough bread and three artisan cheeses makes for a legendary lunch at London’s Borough Market.
The book divides into simple, global, wicked and gourmet sections. Leek and Gruyere is an elegant idea to be served with a glass of chilled white wine, and Brie and Apple-Cranberry Sauce on Walnut bread is a brilliant seasonal suggestion.
Chorizo, Mini Peppers and Manchego is a spicy, smoky treat with a Spanish accent, and Avocado, Refried Bean and Monterey Jack would make a great brunch. The purist in me questions a Welsh rarebit made with two slices of bread (traditionally it lacks the top slice), but Washburn nails the filling — and doesn’t forget the ale, mustard powder and Worcestershire sauce that gives the rarebit its feisty character.
Wicked grilled cheese sandwiches are mini meals (Burger Scamorza or Meatballs, Garlic Tomato Sauce and Fontina, for example). But the gourmet section really takes off with zingy concepts such as Pickled Beetroot, Goat’s Cheese and Chilli Jam, and a decadent Brioche-based Lobster Tail, Tarragon and Beaufort. That’s the one I’m going to dream of tonight.
Recipes from “Grilled Cheese” by Laura Washburn, photography by Steve Painter.
Basic Grilled Cheese
This is the basic grilled cheese method, which can be used as a blueprint for all sorts of experimentation. For a more complex taste, it’s a good idea to combine two relatively mild cheeses, such as a mild cheddar and Monterey Jack.
Yield: 2 servings
4 large slices white bread
Unsalted butter, softened
3 1/2 cups mixed grated/shredded mild cheeses, such as mild cheddar, Gruyere, Monterey Jack or Gouda
1. Butter each of the bread slices on one side and arrange buttered-side down on a clean work surface or chopping board.
2. It’s best to assemble the sandwiches in a large nonstick frying pan/skillet before you heat it up. Start by putting two slices of bread in the frying pan/skillet, butter-side down. If you can only accommodate one slice in your pan, you’ll need to cook one sandwich at a time. Top each slice with half of the grated/shredded cheese, but be careful not to let too much cheese fall into the pan. Top with the final pieces of bread, butter-side up.
3. Turn the heat on medium and cook 3 to 4 minutes on the first side, then carefully turn with a large spatula and cook on the second side for 2 to 3 minutes until the sandwiches are golden brown all over and the cheese is visibly melted.
4. Remove from the frying pan/skillet and cut the sandwiches in half. Let cool for a few minutes before serving and dunk to your heart’s content in a lovely steaming bowl of tomato soup.
Pickled Beetroot, Goat’s Cheese & Chilli Jam
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A zingy combination of colors and tastes — perfect for brunch or a late-evening snack. Use an ordinary mozzarella for this sandwich, as its presence is merely for added ooze and to help hold the sandwich together.
Yield: 2 servings
4 slices white or brioche bread
Unsalted butter, softened
1 3/4 ounces soft goat’s cheese
2 to 4 tablespoon chilli jam, plus extra for serving
6 to 8 slices pickled beet
Freshly squeezed juice of 1/2 lemon
1 to 2 sprigs fresh dill, leaves chopped
4 1/2 ounces mozzarella, sliced
1. Butter each of the slices of bread on one side.
2. This is easiest if assembled in a large heavy-based, nonstick frying pan/skillet. Put two slices of bread in the pan/skillet, butter-side down. If you can only fit one slice in your pan/skillet, you’ll need to cook one sandwich at a time. Add half of the goat’s cheese to each slice. Top with half of the chilli jam, spread evenly to the edges. Arrange half of the beet slices on top, squeeze over some lemon juice and scatter over half of the dill. Top each slice with half of the mozzarella and cover with another slice of bread, butter-side up.
3. Turn the heat on medium and cook the first side for 3 to 5 minutes until deep golden, pressing gently with a spatula. Carefully turn with a large spatula and cook on the second side, for 2 to 3 minutes more or until deep golden brown all over.
4. Remove from the pan, transfer to a plate and cut each sandwich in half. Let cool for a few minutes before serving. Repeat for the remaining sandwich if necessary. Serve with additional chilli jam, for dipping.
Main photo: Pickled Beetroot, Goat’s Cheese & Chilli Jam. Credit: © Ryland Peters & Small/Loupe Images/Steve Painter