- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 1, 2007

A few months ago, at a large cocktail party, I wasn’t paying much attention to the food being served, when suddenly a dish caught by eye. I looked at a platter of what appeared to be miniature grilled cheese sandwiches served with a sauce. “I’ll have one of those.”

I quickly alerted the waitress, but I didn’t stop at one. Three sandwiches later, I caught up with the waitress and asked about these addictive little morsels. They’re one of our catering firm’s favorite dishes, she said.

I didn’t waste any time getting to the kitchen, where I discovered that the chef, Deb Snow, a friend of mine, was the inspiration behind these small gems.

The executive chef of the Blue Heron, a celebrated restaurant in our area of western Massachusetts, and a caterer, Deb explained that they were made with a combination of grated Gruyere and grated Grafton Cheddar (a white cheddar from Vermont) that was mounded between slices of good white sandwich bread.

The sandwiches were then coated with melted butter and quickly browned. Finally, the sandwiches were placed in the oven for several minutes to complete the cooking. Deb cuts the sandwiches into squares or triangles and serves them with a simple balsamic glaze and some pear puree.

For my version, I followed her directions but used only the balsamic glaze as a garnish. I assembled the tartines in my kitchen along with two testers and watched a platter of these golden triangles disappear in less than 10 minutes.

Now I am planning to serve these special appetizers when we go to a potluck supper, and I was delighted to discover that there won’t be much last-minute work involved. The balsamic glaze can be prepared a day ahead and needs only to be warmed up, and the sandwiches can be browned several hours ahead and will only require a few minutes in the oven.

At first I thought a single batch of these petite grilled cheese sandwiches would be plenty for our small group, but these tartines are so tempting I think I should double the recipe.

Deb Snow’s grilled cheese tartines with balsamic glaze

BALSAMIC GLAZE:

1 cup balsamic vinegar

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, chilled and diced

SANDWICHES:

8 slices best quality white bread such as Pepperidge Farm, crusts removed

cup (about 2 ounces) Gruyere cheese, grated

cup (about 2 ounces) Grafton Cheddar, grated (see note)

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

For the balsamic glaze, place vinegar in a small, heavy saucepan over medium heat. Reduce to 1/2 cup. This should take 4 to 5 minutes, but can vary depending on pan used, so watch carefully. Remove saucepan from heat and add the diced butter. Stir until mixture is smooth. (Balsamic glaze can be made 1 day ahead; cool, cover and refrigerate. Reheat just to warm over medium heat.)

Arrange a rack at center position and preheat oven to 375 degrees. Have a baking sheet ready.

Place 4 bread slices on a work surface. Toss the grated Gruyere and the grated cheddar together. Then divide the cheese mixture evenly and spread on top of each slice. Top with remaining bread slices.

With a pastry brush, coat the top of each sandwich generously using half of the melted butter.

Place a large skillet (or a griddle) over medium high heat. When hot, place the sandwiches, buttered sides down, in the pan. Brush the top sides of sandwiches generously with the remaining melted butter.

Cook until the bottoms of the sandwiches are golden brown, only 1 to 2 minutes, depending on how hot your skillet is. Watch carefully so the sandwiches don’t get too brown. Turn and cook until browned on the other side, 1 to 2 minutes. (The sandwiches can be prepared 3 hours ahead to this point. Cool, cover loosely with plastic wrap and refrigerate. When ready to serve, finish baking sandwiches in the oven according to the following directions.)

When sandwiches are browned on both sides, transfer them to the baking sheet and place in the oven to heat through and melt cheese completely, 6 to 8 minutes.

Remove sandwiches from the oven and cut each into 4 equal triangles or squares. Arrange tartines on a serving plate along with a small ramekin or bowl of the balsamic glaze. To eat, dip tartines into the balsamic glaze. Makes 16 tartines or enough to serve 4 to 6 as an appetizer.

Grafton Cheddar, produced in Grafton, Vt., is a superb aged cheddar sold in many parts of the country. If it is not available, substitute a sharp white cheddar.

Betty Rosbottom is a cooking school director and author of “Big Book of Backyard Cooking” (Chronicle Books).

TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES

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