When I was planning my menu a few weeks ago, I came across these grilled cheese sandwiches in a recent issue of Fine Cooking. I was immediately on board. The most basic grilled cheese sandwich made with so-so bread and a slice or two of American cheese is pretty delicious in my book, so this amped up version was bound to be a home run. The sandwich starts with thick rustic Italian bread, hearty enough to support the fillings but still tender, even when toasted until golden brown. There are not one, but three kinds of cheese in play, and one of them happens to be my very favorite (Gruyere!). The original recipe called for fresh tomatoes and salty prosciutto and while the tomatoes sounded fantastic, I'm not big on prosciutto. Instead, I swapped it for an even more appealing option - bacon! Finally, when the sandwiches have finished cooking, the toasty bread is infused with garlic flavor by rubbing it with cut garlic cloves. A simple step that adds so much!
I wasn't sure Shane would be interested in this recipe, so I planned to make it for lunch last weekend. We often do our own thing for lunch on weekends so I figured it was the best time. When he heard what I was having, though, he wanted in on it :) We skipped the tomatoes on his sandwich of course. These were such a big hit that we wound up having them a second time that weekend. I hadn't purchased any fontina, so the first time we made the recipe we used only Gruyere and Parmesan. The sandwiches were delicious, but just for fun, we tried adding cheddar to the mix the second time and liked them even more. The other change we made on our second attempt at the recipe was upping the bacon from one to two slices (always a good decision) and throwing an extra slice of tomato on too. That's the nice thing about this recipe - it's almost more of a guide than a recipe. You can alter the ingredients to suit your tastes or to work with what you have on hand, and the result will still be just as good. My lunch struggles have been well documented on this blog, but I'm pretty sure I could easily eat this sandwich (or some variation on it) every day and be perfectly content!
Garlic-Rubbed Grilled Cheese with Bacon and Tomatoes
adapted from Fine Cooking
8 slices bacon
3 oz (about 1 1/4 cups) grated Gruyère
3 oz (about 1 cup) grated fontina
2 tablespoons finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (or to taste)
8 1/2-inch-thick slices Italian bread
2 medium ripe tomatoes, cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices
2 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
1 to 2 large cloves garlic, halved and peeled for rubbing
Cook the bacon in a heavy-bottomed skillet until browned and crisp. Remove to a paper towel-lined plate. Pour off the grease from the pan and wipe clean.
Combine the cheeses and red pepper flakes in a small bowl. Lay 4 slices of the bread on your work surface, and distribute half of the cheese evenly among the bread. Top the cheese with 2 slices of bacon and then 2 or 3 slices of tomatoes (enough to cover the cheese and bacon). Evenly distribute the remaining cheese among the 4 sandwiches. Lightly butter one side of the remaining four slices of bread, and put them on top of the sandwiches, butter side up.
Heat your heavy-bottomed skillet over medium heat. Place the sandwiches butter side down in the pan and cook on the first side until the bread is golden brown and toasted. Meanwhile, butter the top slice of bread on each sandwich. Flip the sandwiches using a spatula and continue to cook on the other side until the bread is golden brown. You can use the spatula to compress the sandwich as it cooks on the second side. Remove the sandwiches from the pan and immediately rub both sides with the cut side of a garlic clove. Cut the sandwiches in half and serve.
Makes 4 sandwiches