This is quintessential comfort food. Obviously. But it’s such a perfect trifecta of ingredients and the way they play against each other that I need to blog about it. Cheese, bread and tomato do wonderful things together when combined.
The bread is a warm, soft, mild base. The starchiness sets us up for a hearty starting point. Cheese is the fat. It’s smooth, sharp and loaded with delicious dairy calories. It’s savory and builds on that starchiness, adding flavor and a difference in texture. But by now, we’ve got a lot of dry breadiness and a whole lot of heavy, fatty cheese. While this is delicious even by itself, it’s a great opportunity for something bright, fruity and acidic to cut right through and give us some contrast. That’s the tomato. That’s perfect.
It’s also, if I may make an observation, the same sort of interactions that go on with most pasta dishes: starchy pasta, acidic tomato sauce, and cheese to top it off. Ha HA! Chew on that one for awhile!
Once you’ve got the basics, you can pretty much go nuts with this one. In fact, I reserve the right to go nuts with this one in the future.
But for know we’ll keep it simple. That cheese up there is a cheddar-Gruyere “melange” from Trader Joe’s. The important part is that to do this right, get a whole block of cheese. Slice it off into bits. Eat some of the cheese bits as you make the sandwich. Eat a few more bits. What was I saying?
Oh yes, sandwiching. Slice up some tomato and put however much you want. The balancing point here is “will this sandwich completely fall apart on the griddle?” so go by that. I always season tomatoes with a little bit of salt, pepper, and sometimes some dry oregano and garlic powder if there’s any around. Drizzling with a slight bit of olive oil is also called for here. That leafy stuff up there is chopped fresh basil, which is just awesome to have around.
At this point you might also want to start heating up a cast-iron skillet or frying pan, along with a few tablespoons of olive oil (no need for extra virgin for frying). You can use whatever fat you want really, but olive oil is just the best in terms of flavoring and crisping the bread.
While the oil starts to heat up, cap off your half-sandwich with another piece of bread.
A note about the pan: cast iron is best because it will retain heat a lot better than something made out of aluminum, which will mostly just conduct it into the food. The trade off is you need to “pre-heat” the skillet for a little bit. But it’s worth it!
Pre-heat it on medium-low heat for a few minutes with the oil in there, and then when you’re ready to go turn the heat up to medium/medium-high. Yes, we all dream of that perfect golden-brown crispness, but that will come on medium heat as well! In fact, keeping the heat lower rather than higher will keep everything from burning while ensuring enough time for optimal cheese meltification.
If you have a grill press, you can use that to press down on the sandwiches and pleasantly mash them together. Otherwise you can alternate keeping pressure on them with a spatula. You only need to flip them once, so take a peek after about 2 minutes to see how it’s doing. Flip when the bottom part is a gorgeous golden-brown color, and cook the other side until it matches. You will not need as much time for the other side.
Now GO EAT IT!!