Thursday, October 4, 2012

grilled cheese, please

I’m not a huge grilled cheese person. I like the sensory pleasure of crunching into dry, buttery toast and melty cheese, but it's not something I crave. I'd rather eat cheese on a pizza, or just straight up with some cured meat.

However, as a kid, it was often my standard order in restaurants, along with chicken fingers and Shirley Temples. Ah, to be a budding lush, oblivious to calories. I remember the thick, oily toast and oozy American cheese at Denny’s in particular. It was cut into two triangles and served with a pile of wavy-cut fries the same color as the toast. Maybe that’s why I’m not such a fan now.

But then fall rolls around, and I start thinking soups, and autumnal salads, and what goes better with those two things? You got it.

My friend Casey came over for dinner on a Thursday night so I cobbled together a simple, no-frills menu based on this grilled cheese recipe from Bon Appetit. Now, you certainly don’t need a recipe for grilled cheese, but this one is by chef Suzanne Goin, whose recipes always make me stop in my tracks.

Sure, you could slap some cheese between buttered bread, fry the whole thing up and call it a day, but you could also sneak in some shallots caramelized with butter and thyme and use some nice brioche and Gruyere cheese and serve your sandwich alongside a pretty little salad of apples and arugula. And maybe a cup of creamy squash soup for dunking.

It’s a far cry from Denny’s, but hey, everyone enjoyed it. Even me.

Gruyere Grilled Cheese with Apple Salad
From Bon Appetit. The sandwiches are made in the oven, which allows you to make lots at a time, if you are feeding a crowd or bingeing on grilled cheese.
(Serves 2, and easily doubles, triples, etc.)

For the grilled cheese:
4 Tbsp. unsalted butter, divided
3/4 cup 1/4-inch-thick sliced shallots
1 tsp. fresh thyme leaves
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 1/2-inch-thick slices country-style white bread (I used brioche)
8 ounces Gruyère cheese, sliced thinly (you could try other melty cheeses, such as cheddar)
For the salad:
2 cups arugula
1/2 apple (such as Pink Lady or Fuji), sliced into 1/4-inch slices
2 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
2 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Heat 2 Tbsp. butter in a small saucepan over high heat. When butter begins to foam, add shallots and thyme; season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring continuously with a wooden spoon or spatula, until shallots begin to soften and caramelize, about 5 minutes; remove from heat and set aside.

Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Working in 2 batches, add 1 Tbsp. butter and swirl it in pan to melt butter and coat bottom of pan. Add 2 slices of bread to pan and cook until golden brown and crisp on the bottom, 2–3 minutes.

Transfer bread, toasted side down, to a rimmed baking sheet. (Line with foil for easy clean-up.) Repeat with remaining butter and bread slices. Divide cheese evenly among the untoasted side of the bread slices; top cheese with reserved shallots. Place baking sheet in oven and bake until cheese is melted, 7–8 minutes.

Combine arugula, apple slices, lemon juice, and oil in a large bowl; toss to coat and evenly distribute. Season salad to taste with salt and pepper.

Press 2 pieces of bread together, melted cheese sides in. Repeat with remaining bread slices. Cut the sandwiches in half and serve with the salad on the side.

Winter Squash Soup
Unlike your typical butternut squash soup, this version by Ina Garten, also uses canned pumpkin, which adds another layer of squash flavor and a smooth texture. The original recipe calls for half-and-half, but I replaced it with milk to keep things light. You could be even healthier and use stock.
(Serves 6 to 8 people)

2 Tbsp. unsalted butter
1 Tbsp. good olive oil
2 cups chopped yellow onions
1 15 oz. can pumpkin puree (not pumpkin pie filling)
1 1/2 lbs. butternut squash, peeled and cut in chunks
3 cups chicken stock or broth
2 tsp. kosher salt, or to taste
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1 cup milk
Creme fraiche, grated Gruyere, or croutons (for serving, optional)

Heat the butter and oil in a large stockpot, add the onions, and cook over medium-low heat for 10 minutes, or until translucent. Add the pumpkin puree, butternut squash, chicken stock, salt, and pepper. Cover and simmer over medium-low heat for about 20 minutes, until the butternut squash is very tender.

Process the mixture through the medium blade of a food mill or food processor. Return the soup to the pot, add the milk and heat slowly. If the soup needs more flavor, add another teaspoon of salt. Serve hot with garnishes, if desired.


Julie said...

Making grilled cheese in the oven is kind of brilliant. I think I'm trying this for dinner tonight!

Daniel said...

This was a delicious dinner, and I'm happy you made it. But it doesn't pay to be a huge grilled cheese person. Huge grilled cheese people quickly turn into HUGE grilled cheese people.


Blog Widget by LinkWithin