Growing up I used to love grilled cheese sandwiches, made with white spongy bread and sliced american cheese — especially when paired with a bowl of Campbell’s tomato soup. I still think this combo makes a pretty ideal lunch only now I eat some homemade tomato soup from my freezer and use mostly local ingredients on my sandwich. So what seasonal ingredients can you put in a grilled cheese sandwich in the dead of winter? As it turns out, there are plenty to choose from starting with some excellent local cheeses. Three of my favorites for sandwiches are Willamette Valley fontina, Port Madison goat cheese and any of the fabulous cheeses from Beecher’s, I especially like their Flagship.
Local breads are available at just about any market. You’ll want one that’s thick enough to get nice and crispy but not so dense that the cheese gets buried inside and can’t melt properly. Butter, not in the pan, but spread on the outside of each slice is key to the “grilled” surface. Bread, butter and cheese are all you really need but why not have some fun and make a meal of it. Once I started thinking of combinations, I soon realized that the possibilities are endless, even at this time of year.
Classic Grilled Cheese Sandwich
Ingredients: 2 slices sandwich bread/ butter/ cheese — choose one that melts easily.
Directions: Put a nonstick skillet on medium low heat/ While the skillet is heating up, generously butter one side of both pieces of bread/ Place slices of cheese on one non-buttered side of slice of bread, using as much or as little as you like/ If you’re going to add extra ingredients, pile them on too and top with the other slice of bread, buttered side out/ Place sandwich in heated skillet and let it cook until the outside is golden brown, 3-4 minutes/ Using a spatula, flip the sandwich over and cook the other side the same way/ Once the second side is done, flip back to the first side to reheat for a minute or two/ If your bread isn’t too thick and your cheese is soft enough, this should be plenty to melt the cheese without weighting it down or pressing with the spatula.
Lightly sauteed mushrooms and thinly sliced onions or shallots make a meaty vegetarian grilled cheese. I used local cremini mushrooms but for a very special occasion, I’d be tempted to go for some wild ones, using a mildly flavored cheese letting the mushrooms shine.
Until we reach BLT weather next summer, Skagit River Ranch bacon makes an excellent addition to a grilled cheese especially with sturdy winter greens like spinach or arugula. Locally canned tuna is another protein possibility for a tuna cheese melt.
Apples, pears and herbs like sage or rosemary go especially well with goat cheese. I like to saute the herbs in a little butter first but the fruit is delicious raw and thinly sliced. Cut into quarters, this sandwich makes a wonderful appetizer with a glass of chilled white wine.
Just let your imagination go and think outside the box when it comes to grilled cheese sandwiches. Melted cheese is good on almost anything. Put out different cheeses and various other ingredients and let each person design their own sandwich. Sounds like a party!