Last week David Tanis’s column focused on the type of dinner when you arrive home late on a weeknight, a little tipsy and not properly fed due to having been at some kind of holiday party. This is a type of dinner I love—quick, aimed at instant gratification. It’s not always healthy, but it’s infinitely more satisfying than grabbing a slice of pizza on the way home or ordering in (to me, at least). Tanis offers a recipe for “Midnight Pasta,” and it sounds very delicious, but for me, grilled cheese is what I crave in such situations.
I’ve said this about sandwiches before, and I’ll say it again: It really comes down to the bread! Nothing can elevate or debase a sandwich the way the quality of the bread can. I’ve recently gotten into the habit of making my own. But before that I used to buy it from one of my favorite bakeries, slice it up when I got home, and throw it in the freezer. A few minutes in the toaster and you’ve got fresh bread for as long as you can pace yourself.
And as for grilled cheese, I covered this territory in the new book—there is in fact a recipe titled “My Favorite Grilled Cheese Sandwich”—but this one might be a close runner up. I like to put apple on my sandwiches, such as on the Veggie Burger Loaf Sandwich. Fresh, it provides textural contrast as well as an almost puckery jolt of clean sweetness. But to preserve the integrity of what grilled cheese ought to be (the golden crisp on the exterior should be the only crunch) I tried gently frying the apple slices first. It works, especially with the sage and its hint of something evergreen. Indeed this sandwich is indulgent, but as they say, ‘tis the season.
Grilled Cheese with Fried Apples and Sage
Makes 1 sandwich
1 to 2 tablespoons butter
1/2 a crisp, tart apple (Cortland or Macintosh are good choices)
2 slices of your favorite bread
1/3 to 1/2 cup grated good-melting cheese (I used a Toma cheese from my CSA mixed with some Parmesan, but sharp cheddar, fontina, gruyere are great selections)
Pinch dried sage
Freshly ground black pepper
1. Core the apple and slice it into thin (1/8-inch or so) wedges. Heat a skillet over medium heat and add a bit of butter to the pan. When foaming subsides, spread out the apple slices in a single layer. Fry, flipping once, for 2 to 3 minutes, just until tender and showing a bit of color. Return the skillet to the heat.
2. Meanwhile, sprinkle half the cheese over one slice of the bread. Once the apples are cooked, arrange them on top of the cheese. Sprinkle with sage, salt, and a grind or two of black pepper. Sprinkle remaining cheese over the apple, then place the second slice of bread on top.
3. Melt a pat of butter in the skillet. Carefully lower the sandwich into the pan. Using a wide, flat spatula, press down on the sandwich periodically to encourage the cheese to melt and the bottom to take on some color. Once the bottom is golden-brown, which will take 2 to 4 minutes, scatter a few flecks of butter on the uncooked top-side of the bread, then carefully flip the sandwich. Press down with the spatula, periodically, and cook until the cheese is melted and the bread is golden-brown, another 2 to 4 minutes. If the cheese doesn’t seem to be melting, you may want to cover the pan for one or two 30-second intervals, but no more than that or the sandwich will steam. Serve hot.