As winter lingers like a bad case of chronic indigestion, we need of the kind of comfort only a couple of pounds of cheese and half of a ham can bring. Easter dinner will leave most of us with plenty of leftover ham. Now all you need is a few slabs of bread, some Cheddar and Swiss cheeses, apples, walnuts and onions. With that, you can make the mother of all grilled cheese sandwiches.
I made a couple last week and they were glorious. Imagine inch-thick slices of crusty bread toasted with butter and thickly layered with cheese. Snuggling in the center of the gooey melted cheese are a layer of ham and a layer of sautéed apple slices, a sprinkling of toasted walnuts and a mound of balsamic-glazed onions.
It’s a nutritionists nightmare but sooo good. When you bite into the sandwich all the flavors flow together into a salty-sweet-crunchy mouthful.
The sandwich is over the top and it’s meant to be. My inspiration was the eats at Melt Bar & Grilled, the quartet of Cleveland-area restaurants that has been featured on the Food Network, the Travel Channel and BBC. Friends recently introduced me to the restaurants’ two-fisted gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches (often referred to as “epic”), and I was entranced. Chef-owner Matt Fish slaps everything from sushi to corned beef between bread and surrounds it with melted cheese. Some choices: the Cuban, a grilled Swiss stuffed with ham, pulled pork and fried pickles; and Mom’s Meatloaf Dinner, a muenster cheese sandwich layered with meatloaf, mashed potatoes and fried onion straws. The fillings alone are at least an inch thick, and the cheese does not take a back seat. Throw in thickly sliced bread and you have a sandwich that could feed a family of four.
I created an original version to take advantage of leftover Easter ham. Admittedly, it is not a quick-fix sandwich. The onions must be caramelized, the apple must be peeled, sliced and fried in butter, walnuts must be toasted, and bread must be sliced, buttered and browned in a skillet before the sandwich is assembled. But the steps may be done one at a time up to a day in advance and the result is worth it. If you want easy, have a cold ham sandwich on Wonder Bread. See if THAT gets you through the tail-end of an Ohio winter.
GOURMET GRILLED HAM AND CHEESE SANDWICHES WITH APPLES, TOASTED WALNUTS AND BALSAMIC-CARAMELIZED ONIONS
- 1 1/2 cups sliced onions (1/4-inch thick)
- 3 tbsp. olive oil, divided
- Pinch of salt
- 1 tbsp. balsamic vinegar
- 1 tbsp. butter
- 1 to 2 apples, peeled, cored and cut vertically into 1/2-inch-thick slices (12 slices)
- 1 tbsp. sugar
- 2 tbsp. broken walnut pieces
- 4 tbsp. softened butter
- 4 slices sturdy white bread, cut ¾-inch thick
- 8 oz. sliced ham (about ¼-inch thick)
- 4 oz. sliced Cheddar cheese
- 4 oz. sliced Swiss cheese
To prepare onions, cut onion in half vertically, peel and cut the halves crosswise into 1/4-inch thick slices. Heat a medium (9-inch) sauté pan over high heat. Add 2 tablespoons of the oil. When hot, reduce heat to medium and sauté onions with a dash of salt, stirring occasionally, until mostly golden. Stir in vinegar and continue cooking until deep brown but not burned, about 30 minutes total. Remove from skillet and set aside.
Toss apple slices with sugar. Heat remaining 1 tablespoon oil and the 1 tablespoon butter in the same pan. Cook apples slices over medium-high heat until browned on both sides. The apples should be soft but not mushy. Remove from pan and set aside.
Stir walnut pieces into oil and juices left in pan. Raise heat to medium high and cook, stirring, until nuts are brown. Sprinkle with salt and set aside.
Butter both sides of each piece of bread with the softened butter. Heat a large oven-proof skillet over high heat. Brown bread on one side only in the skillet. Place two pieces on a plate, browned sides up. Top with half of the Swiss and half of the Cheddar. Divide the apples, nuts, ham and onions between the cheese-topped pieces of bread, mounding the fillings evenly. Top with remaining cheeses. Cover with remaining two slices of bread, toasted sides down.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Heat the large skillet over medium-high heat. Place sandwiches in skillet and cook for 2 minutes. Transfer to middle oven rack and bake at 400 degrees for 10 minutes. Turn controls to broil and cook until tops of sandwiches are golden brown. Makes two very large sandwiches.
BOOKS FOR COOKS
Please share your recommendations.
From Cindy Ederer:
I just finished reading, “Life, On the Line,” by Grant Achatz. I highly recommend it. You can find it at the library. Enjoy!
Dear Cindy: That’s on my list. A little background for those unfamiliar with the story: Achatz, owner of Alinea in Chicago, was among the hottest chefs in the country when he was diagnosed with cancer of the mouth in 2007. The book details his struggles and triumphs. He eventually conquered cancer and Alinea went on to win three Michelin stars.
Jane, my mom made her scalloped potatoes the very same way as you do and I still think they are the best. As very young children, we got to help by layering the potatoes around the casserole dish…something about that circle of potatoes that still brings fond memories of Mom in her kitchen. So you have stirred up a dish to savor this weekend. My hubby will be very happy!
Dear Patti: And don’t forget the chocolate bunnies and pickled eggs.
I have to echo Molly’s recommendation for Nate’s Deli on West 25th Street in Cleveland next to West Side Market. I CRAVE their beef shawarma hummus plate. I have never had shawarma that good, and their hummus is excellent. I can’t get past that to even try anything else. One caution, I took a friend of mine there who was not familiar with Middle Eastern food and she ordered a corned beef sandwich. It was very disappointing, the kind of corned beef you get at a supermarket deli.
Stick to the beef shawarma or the dishes Molly recommends and you will be pleased!
Dear Pennie: A throw down! I can’t imagine better shawarma than Continental Cuisine’s. I’ll have to check out Nate’s and compare.
Jane, I had forgotten to mention that I buy creamy garlic sauce (in a large container) at Nate’s Deli, too. They make it in-house. Most things are made fresh.
Dear Molly: Woo hoo! This is good news, because that garlic sauce is a bear to make.
I saw a request for salad dressing for fatoosh salad in this week’s newsletter. I am a huge fan of Wafa’s Restaurant in the Chase Bank building plaza in downtown Akron. Wafa’s food is incredible. The hummus is without a doubt the best I have ever eaten. Wafa made a great fatoosh salad and I was able to replicate it at home including the dressing. The company I work for moved to the Montrose area so I don’t get to eat at Wafa’s anymore. I’m planning to try Continental Cuisine. Keep up the great newsletter!!
- 2 small pita breads (4-inch size)
- 2 hearts of romaine (chopped)
- 1 small sweet onion (chopped into larger pieces)
- 1 cucumber (peeled and sliced)
- 3 plum or large cherry tomatoes, cut into wedges
- 2 tsp. sumac powder (a spice found at Middle Eastern markets)
- 1 clove garlic (chopped)
- 3 tbsp. lemon juice
- 1 tsp. red wine vinegar
- 2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
- 1 tsp. salt
- 1/4 tsp. black pepper
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cut pita breads into bite size pieces; spread on a baking sheet and toast them in the oven until very crisp (mine took about 20 to 25 minutes).
Place romaine, sweet onion, cucumber, tomatoes and pita pieces in a large bowl. Sprinkle the sumac powder over top and toss gently.
Mix garlic, lemon juice, vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper in a separate bowl. (I made my dressing the night before so the flavors had a chance to come together). Pour over salad fixings and toss gently. Wait about 5 minutes for the flavors to blend and then serve.
Note: Very important – don’t add sumac to the dressing. It makes it pasty. Be sure to sprinkle it over the dry greens to get it evenly distributed.
Dear Tami: I loved Wafa’s, too, when I worked downtown. So nice of you to share your recipe.
Do you have a good rule of thumb for onions in recipes? Usually, a recipe gives the amount and the texture (1/2 cup, chopped) but doesn’t specify the type, such as yellow, white, Vidalia, etc.
Dear Joanne: To be honest, I usually use whatever kind of onions I have on hand. Using the “wrong” onion won’t ruin a dish. I’ve even subbed green onions for regular and vice versa. The exception is when I’m cooking something grand. In that case, I’ll run to the store for the exact ingredients needed.
Basically, though, when a recipe calls for simply “onions,” regular yellow or white onions are wanted. If a specialty onion should be used, the recipe will specify. Some examples are sweet onions (Vidalia, Walla-Walla, Maui, etc.); green onions (scallions); cippolini (little flattened things); purple (also called “red”); and spring onions (those bulbous onions that look like overgrown scallions).
Although I’ve lumped together regular yellow and white onions (both are also known as “storage” onions), onion experts swear there’s a difference. White onions are generally considered more pungent than yellow onions, although I’ve met some wicked yellows in my time. I think the growing conditions have more to do with pungency than does the color of the skin.