Yes, a simple grilled cheese sandwich and a bowl of tomato soup is warm and satisfying. But can’t we do better, friends? For one meal, can’t we leave nostalgia for that platonic post-leaf-raking, aprés-snow-shoveling meal aside, and give as much love to the grilled cheese sandwich as it has given us?
Which is to say: how about some jam or fig preserves and thinly sliced apple or pear inside the sandwich, to give it a little sweetness and crunch? And then a little ragù alla bolognese (meat sauce!) to spoon onto every bite? With some mushrooms thrown in, maybe?
Give it a try. I think you’ll be pleased with the results.
Why build a meat sauce from scratch just so you can make your grilled cheese a little extra awesome?
First of all – learning how to make a ragù alla bolognese, if you don’t know already, is always a good idea. You’ll wind up with a rich and satisfying pasta sauce that you can use in many other dishes (it goes particularly well with fettuccine.)
Secondly – unless you’re serving ten sandwiches, you’ll have plenty of sauce leftover for those other dishes – this stuff freezes well.
Thirdly – if you make the grilled cheese as suggested here, the contrast of the slight sweetness of the preserves and the apple with the meaty richness of the ragù will cause your tongue to bro-ishly demand hi-fives from all your other organs – even your curmudgeonly gall bladder will grudgingly admit you could have done a lot worse.
Prepare for awesomeness.
Grilled cheese sandwiches with pork-mushroom ragù alla bolognese.
For the sauce:
- 1 large or two small onions, chopped
- 2 celery stalks, finely chopped
- 1 large carrot, peeled, chopped
- 6 cloves minced garlic (Love garlic? Use more. Don’t like garlic? Use less – but use some, at least – it’ll add a certain somethin’.)
- extra-virgin olive oil
- 4 oz ground pork
- 4 oz ground beef (85% lean)
- 4 oz. bacon, chopped
- 6 oz mushrooms, chopped (fresh shiitake if you can find them) (optional)
- 1/2 cup red wine (something dry)
- 2 3/4 cups chicken stock
- 4 tablespoons tomato paste
- Kosher salt
- 1 cup whole milk
For the grilled cheese sandwich:
- 3 tablespoons butter
- 2 slices of sturdy white bread (something big and hearty)
- 1 oz fontina, grated (yes, you’ll probably have to grate it yourself. Make sure it’s cold before you get started – this stuff is soft.)
- 1 oz aged provolone, grated
- a little more than 1 tablespoon fig preserve or any good jam or preserve you have on hand.
- thin slices of your favorite apple or pear (as thin as you can get them; I’d recommend Honeycrisp or Bartlett pear, but any tasty apple or pear will do.)
For yourself, while you’re cooking:
- A glass or two of the red wine
- some of that cheese
- The new Stephen King sequel to “The Shining” or one of the robot-building competition episodes from NOVA or Scientific American on Netflix – because robots and nerds are awesome. Just like grilled cheese sandwiches.
1. Get out a big, wide, heavy sauce pan or pot. Drop about 2-3 tablespoons of oil in and warm it over medium-high heat. When it’s hot, add the onions, celery, carrot and garlic. Sauté for about 10 minutes, stirring frequently.
2. Add the meat and the mushrooms. Crumble the meat in the pan with a wooden spoon and brown it (the mushrooms will simply cook down a little) for about 13 minutes. Watch the pan and stir often.
3. Add the wine and stir; boil for about a minute – scrape up the brown bits from the bottom of the pan.
4. Add the chicken stock and the tomato paste and stir; simmer on the lowest setting for about 1.25 – 1.5 hours.
5. Turn the heat up to medium high and drizzle the milk into the pot a little at a time, stirring after each drizzle, until the milk is fully incorporated, and cook that for an additional 40 minutes, with the lid almost all the way on – you want a little steam and heat to escape, but not too much. Season to taste with salt and pepper. (After this step, your sauce is DONE.)
Now, during step five, you want to be slicing those apples and grating that cheese and separating it out into two-ounce portions, per sandwich. Why 2 ounces? AND WHY CAN’T WE JUST USE AMERICAN SLICES, YOU HIGH-MAINTENANCE FOOD DORK?
Well, you can. You can use any melty kind of cheese you want. And it will be delicious. But if you decide to go the fancy-cheese route, you need to get a somewhat-precise measurement on the cheese – and it’s easier to adjust the weight on grated cheese and get even coverage than breaking off misshapen hunks of whatever you’re putting onto your sandwich.
And I’m saying two ounces because a Kraft Single slice is about an ounce – and two slices makes a perfect grilled cheese sandwich for this application. Add more if you like – but add too much, and there might be uncontrolled, unconstrained ooziness. Possible burnt cheese. And heartbreak.
Okay – back to the recipe.
6. Get your ingredients (cheese, apple slices, preserves) ready to go (mise en place) so you can assemble your sandwiches quickly.
7. Melt 1 tablespoon of the butter over medium-high heat in a pan big enough to hold two slices of bread, tipping the pan so the butter is spread evenly. Place slices in pan and cook for about 2 minutes. Check bread after 1 minute, just in case things are running too hot or too cool.
8. Move toasted bread to a cutting board, buttery sides up. On one side ONLY, add ingredients in this order:
– preserves (spread to the edges in a thin layer – here, the back of a spoon or an offset spatula may be easier than a knife)
– cheese (if using freshly grated cheese, press down and spread cheese out close to, but not all the way to the egde)
– apple slices (you got those suckers thin, right? They don’t have to be transparent, but they should be fairly slim – use a mandoline, if you’ve got one)
Put the second slice on top, buttered side facing inside.
9. Melt 1 tablespoon butter in pan, and cook one side of assembled sandwich for 3-5 minutes, checking the bottom of sandwich after 2 minutes. Occasionally, press down gently with bottom of spatula. After cooking one side, repeat with butter and other side of sandwich.
It’s important to keep the heat high enough to melt the cheese, but low enough to not burn the bread. You’ve done this before – you know how your burners behave. Just keep an eye on things.
And, after all that, as Alton Brown would say – your patience will be rewarded.
Is this more work than a can of Campbell’s? Yes. But you’ll probably get at least 2, if not 3 meals out of this – and a grilled cheese sandwich eating experience you will never forget. I promise.
P.S. You can simplify the sauce prep by working through step four and dumping everything in a slow cooker, set on low, for a few hours. You can either opt out of the milk and get a fantastic meat sauce, or add the milk and keep on going in the slow cooker for a little longer. It’s up to you, friends.
P.P.S. These recipes are adapted from content via Bon Appetit and Serious Eats. If you’re not already reading their stuff, for God’s sake, step up your game, yo.