Gooey Goodness

No matter how you slice it, the grilled-cheese sandwich is irresistible.


When we were growing up, Sundaynight supper may have been a grilledcheese sandwich and a steaming bowl of tomato soup from the redand- white can.

Now itM-Fs the grilled cheese that is all grown up.

How about grilled pumpernickel and gouda cheese with parsley-tarragon mustard? Does that sound like any grilled cheese Mom ever made you?

Or jack cheese oozing around sage sausage and dotted with Moroccan preserved lemons. Or this breadless wonder: sharp provolone and Asiago and a thick slice of beefsteak tomato grilled between two portobello mushrooms.

Authors Laura Werlin and Marlena Spieler give a glimpse of all that grilled cheese can be in a pair of cookbooks dedicated to that crunchy, oozy sandwich treat.

M-tI have always loved grilled cheese,M-v said Werlin, author of Great Grilled Cheese: 50 Innovative Recipes for Stovetop, Grill and Sandwich Maker (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 2004, $16.95).

She won a 2004 James Beard Foundation award for her writing about American cheeses, so grilling cheese between slices of bread seemed a natural next step.

M-tIt made sense for me to write about it because I was having [See Gri grilled cheese is such a blank slate. It can be as simple or as evolved as you want it to be.M-v

The cookbooks arrive just as comfort foods M-y grilled cheese in particular M-y are getting a makeover and moving onto center stage. Say Cheese, a New York restaurant dedicated to the concept of the grilled cheese, has a mention in SpielerM-Fs book. And, she says, her book has inspired an acquaintance to consider opening a grilled-cheese restaurant in New Jersey as well.

While many of these sandwich recipes might not resemble the grilled cheese you remember, Werlin does include a recipe for what she calls M-tthe best grilled cheese,M-v made with grated cheddar cheese and sourdough bread and grilled in butter.

M-tI couldnM-Ft bear to have a grilledcheese book without the recipe that is so fundamental to the American experience,M-v she said.

Likewise, Spieler includes a recipe for her Auntie StelliM-Fs open-faced grilled cheese with dill pickle in her book, Grilled Cheese: 50 Recipes to Make You Melt (Chronicle Books, 2004, $16.95).

Both authors remember the grilled cheese as the first food they were able to cook themselves.

M-tAnd I could use as much butter as I wanted,M-v said Werlin. M-tIt was fun and they were great.M-v

How times have changed.

More and more artisan breads are easily available to replace the spongy white breads of the past. And most grocery stores have a good assortment of strong, f lavorful cheeses, although nothing melts as easily and as thoroughly as the Velveeta many of us grew up eating.

M-tAfter that, the sky is the limit,M-v says Werlin. M-tWhatever is fresh and available, whatever you feel like trying.M-v

M-tMy daughter thought all grilledcheese sandwiches had chilies and garlic,M-v said Spieler.

M-tWe were always making such interesting ones. And because it is the grilled cheese, you can do anything because it isnM-Ft taken seriously.M-v

Spieler lives in Hampshire, England, where the English love their M-ttoastiesM-v as God made them: toasted bread and melted cheese with perhaps a Branson pickle.

You can almost see Agatha ChristieM-Fs Miss Marple heating hers in a metal press against the parlor fire. But grilled-cheese sandwiches have become more sophisticated, and so has the method of cooking one.

The panini grill has become common in well-equipped American kitchens and Werlin includes instructions on how to grill every recipe on a sandwich maker, as well as on a gas grill. But Spieler likes doing it the old-fashioned way: on the stove top with a good nonstick fry pan and a spatula to compress the sandwich and make it crispy.

M-tItM-Fs true that the panini is simpler,M-v she said. M-tAnd it allows you to use less butter and oil. But I like the flavor better my way.M-v

Whatever the method for making it, you know the little sandwich has come far when you can serve it for every course.

SpielerM-Fs favorite hors dM-Foeuvres are little Roquefort sandwiches grilled on thin slices of baguette and served with a gingered beet marmalade. With fresh watercress to balance it all, she writes, it can serve as a first course or a light lunch.

For breakfast, Spieler offers a recipe for French toast stuffed with strawberries and cream cheese, while Werlin includes the recipe for a cheesy M-tgashouseM-v egg sandwich.

How about hot goat-cheesetopped toasts on a bed of mixed greens in walnut vinaigrette? ThatM-Fs one of several grilled-cheese salads in SpielerM-Fs book.

Werlin, who lives in San Francisco and writes about cheese for the Los Angeles Times Syndicate, offers a chocolate-hazelnut-and-goat-cheese melt on country white bread as a dessert sandwich. And she includes a recipe for goat cheese and raspberries on brioche M-y perfect for dessert or brunch, she said.

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