May 6, 2011
Americans have a great love for grilled cheese sandwiches, as evidenced by the existence of an entire restaurant dedicated to the grilled cheese in San Francisco, and an annual grilled cheese invitational competition in LA (thanks to our friend Elizabeth, a great appreciator of cheese, for sending us that one). It's pretty easy to understand our grilled cheese obsession - you can't go wrong with cheese melted on bread, especially if that bread has also been browned in a pan with butter. And we're not the only ones. In Mexico, there are quesadillas. In France, there are cheese-filled crêpes, but the French also went ahead and took the concept of the grilled cheese to the next level by adding bêchamel to make a Croque Monsieur, and all that plus an egg to make a Croque Madame.
We love grilled cheese in all its forms: American cheese on white bread, gruyère and ham on fancy bread, with bêchamel, with pesto, mushrooms, caramelized onions - whatever you want to put in there, it's all delicious (check out the four categories for the grilled cheese competition). And the truth is that you don't even need the browned in butter part to achieve deliciousness - we got a panini maker a while ago and it's one of our most frequently used kitchen items.
This week, though, we decided to go back to pan, and not only because our panini maker finally broke (don't worry, we ordered a new one). We wanted to make something yummy with that crisp, buttery outside. We wanted there to be fresh mozzarella, and tomatoes (even though we're not in full tomato season yet), and spinach. And most of all we wanted to use this fantastic pistachio tapenade that we discovered at Smitten Kitchen. The recipe, which is originally from Anne Burrell and paired with rack of lamb, is the best tapenade we've ever had. The pistachios give it a great texture, almost like a pesto, and the blend of flavors (lemon, capers, and parsley) let the olive taste shine without being overwhelming.
Tomato, Tapenade, and Spinach Grilled Cheese (serves 2)
- 4 slices of bread
- About 4 oz of fresh mozzarella
- 1 tomato, sliced
- Handful of baby spinach
- 1/4 cup pistachio tapenade (recipe below)
- About half a tablespoon of butter, for cooking
Slice the mozzarella to your desired thickness, and put the slices down on the bottom slices of bread. Top with a layer of tomato slices, then pile on the spinach. Smear the top slice with tapenade. Melt the butter over medium heat in a large skillet and place the sandwiches in the pan (with the cheese side on the bottom, to ensure melting). It's best if you have a cover to put on the pan while the sandwiches are cooking, to make sure that the cheese melts. Cook until the bread is golden brown (3-4 minutes), then flip the sandwiches and brown the other side (add more butter to the pan if needed when you flip them).
Pistachio Tapenade (makes about 1/2 cup)
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen, who was inspired by Anne Burrell
Note: this recipe makes more than you need for the sandwiches, but at smaller quantities the amounts get harder to measure, and you'll probably want some of this stuff around anyway.
- 1/4 cup shelled, roasted, unsalted pistachios
- 1/4 cup olives (your choice - we used niçoise, SK used green, and Anne says Cerignola)
- 1 tbsp capers
- 1 clove garlic, smashed
- 1 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
- Zest of 1/2 lemon
- 1 tbsp olive oil (more or less as needed)
- Black pepper, to taste
Put the pistachios, olives, capers, garlic, parsley, and lemon zest in a food processor, and blend. Keep the machine running and drizzle in the olive oil until the mixture resembles a paste. Season with black pepper.