Does it get any better than grilled cheese? Many people don't think so. And though it's hard to beat the perfection that is ooey-gooey melted cheese between two crisp pieces of bread, we do have some ideas to help you take it to the next level. Ideas like caramelized shallots. Or sliced pear. Or sage-infused grilling oil.
Let's start with the grilled cheese at Lucques. Gary from Oxnard requested the recipe, writing:
"One of my favorite late-night meals has been sitting at the bar at Lucques on Melrose, snacking on the grilled cheese sandwich and washing it down with a gin gimlet. I can make the gimlet but can never duplicate the combination of crispy bread and several cheeses. Help."
Lucques' grilled cheese with shallots: For its take on the classic, Lucques starts with a gentle, buttery Cantal, a mild semi-firm cheese with a fantastic creamy consistency when melted. Caramelized shallots punctuated with a little fresh thyme add another dimension. Put all that between two crisp slices of country-style bread and raise a glass.
Grilled blue cheese and pear sandwich: Love blue cheese? For a slight twist on the comforting classic, put crumbled blue cheese between slices of raisin brioche, along with thinly sliced pear. Cook until the bread is golden brown and the cheese is soft and oozing, 3 to 4 minutes on each side. If you have enough self-restraint to keep from eating the sandwich over the stove (I totally understand if you don't), plate your creation, drizzled with a little chestnut honey. Grilled cheese never looked so good.
Fontina and sage grilled cheese: Or wedge some grated Fontina cheese between slices of country white bread, the simple sandwich brushed with fresh sage-infused olive oil before grilling. The smooth, slightly nutty cheese pairs well with fragrant herb, making for a sandwich that is perfect for dinner, or any time of the day. You can find the recipe below.
FONTINA AND SAGE GRILLED CHEESE
Total time: About 20 minutes, plus pressing time for the sandwiches / Servings: Makes 2 sandwiches
Note: Adapted from "The Zuni Cafe Cookbook" by Judy Rodgers.
3 tablespoons best-quality olive oil, plus a few drops for the pan
1 dozen fresh sage leaves, chopped (about 1 tablespoon)
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
4 ounces Fontina cheese, rind removed and coarsely grated
4 slices country white bread
1. In a small saucepan over low heat, heat the olive oil, sage and pepper until warm to the touch. Turn off the heat and let it infuse while you assemble the sandwiches.
2. Place the cheese, divided evenly, on two slices of bread. Take care to bring the cheese all the way to the edge of the crust. Top each with a second slice of bread and press flat. Lay a heavy or weighted cutting board on top of the sandwiches for 10 to 20 minutes.
3. Use a pastry brush to spread the sage oil lightly on both sides of the sandwiches. Make sure you go all the way to the edges, and try to distribute the sage and pepper evenly over the bread.
4. Heat a cast-iron pan or griddle over low heat. Sprinkle with a few drops of olive oil, then rub it over the whole cooking surface with a paper towel. Add the sandwiches and cook, weighted with another heavy pan or a steak weight, until golden, about 2 to 3 minutes per side. Keep the heat low so that you don't burn the sage or pepper.
5. Remove the sandwich to a cutting board and cut it in half or in quarters. Serve immediately.
Each sandwich: 565 calories; 20 grams protein; 31 grams carbohydrates; 2 grams fiber; 40 grams fat; 14 grams saturated fat; 66 mg. cholesterol; 804 mg. sodium.