Yesterday was a long day. Not bad, not terribly stressful – just long. I was up at 7am, cleaning and getting ready for work, and I didn’t get back home until 10:15pm. The M wasn’t running last night and I ended up hopping three different trains to get back home. It was such a relief to finally see the light of the E train in the tunnel at my last transfer.
One of my oldest friends had texted me earlier that evening to see if we could catch up, and I had promised to call once I was home, if she was still awake. Lucky for me, she was, and so I made dinner while talking to her. As we were chatting, I attempted to cook some frozen dumplings and made a Caprese salad of the ‘on its last legs’ fresh mozzarella I had in the fridge. The dumplings, at first appearing fine, unfortunately became a little too soggy as I had been a bit overzealous in adding water to the pan – most likely a consequence of being more absorbed in conversation than cooking. I couldn’t decide what to make instead. I still had a bit of mozzarella left. I remembered then that I also had sourdough in the fridge, and with the cherry tomatoes and basil, that would make a well-dressed, delicious grilled cheese.
One of the things that I have absorbed (almost unconsciously) from my mother is that grilled cheese should always be made on a griddle on the stove. It gets crisp on the outside and gooey on the inside and not oozy or flattened as it often does in a panini maker. For me, there’s something comforting about that crunch as you take a bite, along with the uneven browning and the proper feel of a sandwich in your hands. It reminds me of being a kid again, with my bowl of tomato soup right there for the dunking.
Of course, it’s been a bit hot for soup, and I already had tomatoes and basil and balsamic cream in my sandwich along with the mozzarella. Instead, I cooked up my gourmet grilled cheese and sat down to eat as I listened to an old friend’s voice. It was the perfect end to a long day.
Caprese Grilled Cheese
Makes 1 grilled cheese
Two slices of sourdough bread
5 ciliegine balls, halved and then quartered (this is the fresh mozzarella that’s sold in containers of water; these are about the size of a cherry tomato)
5 cherry tomatoes, halved and then quartered
3-4 leaves of basil, cut into thin ribbons
balsamic cream* (optional)
Make sure your mozzarella, tomato and basil is chopped and ready to go. Brush a little olive oil over the outer sides of your slices of bread (the sides that will be touching the griddle). Turn the burner on to low. Start putting a layer of the mozzarella onto one slice, add the tomatoes and basil, and then the rest of the mozzarella. I like do a cheese, tomato, cheese situation – the cheese becomes the ‘glue’ that holds the sandwich together. Add a sprinkling of the balsamic cream throughout the mozzarella tomato mixture here if you’d like. I tend to be liberal with it, but apply it as you wish. Place the other slice of bread on top, turn the heat up to medium and use a spatula to press down on the sandwich, just enough to make sure the cheese is actually melting into the bread. Keep an eye on your sandwich, as cooking time will vary depending on your stove and griddle (my griddle does take a bit of time to warm through). Take a look at the bottom of the sandwich after 3-5 minutes and check if it’s browning. If so, go ahead and flip your sandwich. The other side will brown faster, so stay close. I often end up flipping from side to side after both sides have gotten some color to ensure the cheese keeps melting without getting my bread overly toasty. You can also turn the heat down to low to cook it a bit longer. Once the cheese looks somewhat melted to you (like the picture), scoop your grilled cheese off the griddle and onto a plate. Cut it in half and you’re ready to eat.
*Balsamic cream (or cream of balsamic): a sweeter, thicker version of balsamic. I first tried it in Italy and became obsessed. You can find it online – I’ve purchased this brand before and enjoyed it very much. I keep a bottle of the original flavor around – it makes a wonderful addition to many dishes.