Every December, the online food world goes into a tizzy creating tons of ‘best of’ lists. I find these lists exhaustive and somewhat boring because everyone is always talking about the same new restaurants, chefs, cookbooks, and television shows. However with so many lists out there, I can’t help but think about my best meals of the year — and my favorite new restaurants and cookbooks. One cookbook in particular has inspired me to get more creative in the kitchen: Laura Werlin’s Grilled Cheese, Please!
I’ve been a huge fan of the incredibly informative cheese expert since taking one of her seminars years ago at the first annual Artisan Cheese Festival in Petaluma. Werlin’s a great teacher because she gets you excited about cheese in a way that’s approachable and not at all foodie or pretentious. From an egg-in-a-nest grilled cheese to brie and pear with blue cheese butter to mozzarella, prosciutto, and broccoli rabe, her grilled cheese book is filled with creative and delicious recipes. The thing I love most about the book, though, is that it’s taught me to look at grilled cheese sandwiches in a whole new way.
I’ve moved beyond cheddar and parmesan and use different kinds of cheese. I combine the cheese with interesting ingredients and sumptuous spreads. I slather flavored butter on the outside of the bread. Quite simply, I no longer think of the grilled cheese sandwich as a humble lunch for children, I consider it a gourmet masterpiece that should be enjoyed at dinner with a glass of excellent bubbly.
The recipe seen here, Chile Chip Grilled Cheese, is an example of how Werlin’s book can inspire the home cook. It’s modeled after her Chips and Guacamole Grilled Cheese, but my version is vegetarian. Crushed tortilla chips are pressed onto the outside of the bread (see? Werlin’s a genius!) resulting in a sandwich that has an amazingly crunchy exterior. Since I was feeding just myself, the recipe serves one, but it can easily be increased.
Chile Chip Grilled Cheese
For the Pico de Gallo:
1 half tomato, seeded and chopped
1 half shallot, minced
1 small garlic clove, minced
1 teaspoon minced cilantro
1 tablespoon minced pickled jalapeño, optional
1 teaspoon fresh-squeezed lime juice
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
For the Sandwich:
1/2 tablespoon olive oil
1 half shallot, sliced
1 Anaheim or poblano pepper, seeded and sliced
1/2 cup spinach
7 small tortilla chips (I used Tostitos scoops)
1 tablespoon butter, at room temperature
2 large pieces of sliced sourdough
1/3 cup shredded pepper jack cheese
2 tablespoons shredded cheddar cheese
1 heaping tablespoon crumbled goat cheese
- Make the pico de gallo: in a small bowl, combine the tomato, shallot, garlic, cilantro, pickled jalapeño, and lime juice. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Set aside.
- Heat the oil in a medium sauté pan over medium low heat. Add the shallot and pepper and sauté until both are soft about 6 minutes. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Add the spinach and cook until it is just wilted, stirring, 1-2 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside to cool a little.
- Place the tortilla chips in a small plastic baggie. With a muddler or other heavy kitchen tool like a rolling pin, crush the chips until they are fine like sand.
- In a small bowl, combine 2 teaspoons of the crushed tortilla chips with the butter. Spread the mixture on one side of both slices of bread. Place the bread, butterd-tortilla chip side down on a cutting board.
- In another small bowl, combine the pepper jack and cheddar cheese.
- To assemble the sandwich, top one slice of bread with half of the cheese mixture, sprinkling it evenly over the bread. With a fork, spoon the pico de gallo, leaving the excess liquid in the bowl, evenly over the top of the cheese. Top with the sautéed pepper and shallot. Cover the vegetables with the remaining pepper jack and cheddar cheese. Dot with the goat cheese. Season with freshly ground black pepper. Cover with the second bread slice with the buttered-tortilla chip side out.
- With a paper towel, wipe out the skillet that you cooked the shallot and pepper in. Place the skillet over medium low heat and add the sandwich to the pan. Cover and cook for 5 minutes. Remove the lid and flip the sandwich, cover and cook for another 4 minutes. You want the cheese to melt and the outside to be golden brown. If the cheese is not melted and the outside not golden brown, flip and cook, covered, for another 3 minutes on each side.
- Remove the sandwich from the pan and let rest on a cutting board for 2-3 minutes. Slice in half and enjoy immediately.