- The Washington Times - Monday, December 29, 2003

One of the first things I learned to cook as a child was a grilled cheese sandwich. It was a simple recipe consisting of at least three, maybe four, thin pieces of processed white cheese tucked between slices of spongy white bread that had been buttered on the outside.

Once the sandwich was assembled, I plopped it into a hot iron skillet and listened to it sizzle. I waited and carefully watched for the cheese to melt and ooze from between the bread slices, which by then were crisp and golden. At the time, I thought it was the best food around.

My world of grilled cheese sandwiches has multiplied through the years. When we were children, my sister whipped up her own version of this favorite combination. It consisted of sliced mozzarella cheese layered on Italian bread and broiled, open face, until the edges of the bread turned golden and the cheese bubbly.

She served these scrumptious open-face melted cheese sandwiches to her younger siblings — my brother and me — as a special after-school snack. The strings of melted “mutz” were a source of great amusement, as they stretched with each bite and caught on our chins.

As the years pass by, my collection of grilled-cheese-sandwich favorites grows bigger and bigger. Today, I crumble Stilton on rounds of toasted sweet baguette and melt them under the broiler. Or I smear cold brie or Camembert on crusty slices of multigrain bread and toast them under the broiler.

When I’m in the mood, I adapt my childhood favorite, but with more sophisticated cheese, such as Italian Fontina, Swiss Gruyere and French Comte on sourdough, sweet baguettes or whole-grain loaves.

Sometimes I add thin slices of prosciutto, Black Forest ham, tomatoes and pickles. Or maybe I toss in a few leaves of spinach or arugula, or slices of crisp cooked bacon. When I’m feeling in the mood for an extra-special melted-cheese treat, I make pandorato, the Italian gift to the world of grilled cheese sandwiches.

Quick homemade tomato soup

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

¼ cup minced onion

1 teaspoon minced garlic

2 (28-ounce) cans plum tomatoes in juice

2 basil leaves, torn

1 to 2 cups chicken or vegetable broth, optional

Salt, freshly ground black pepper

Combine oil and onion in a large, broad saucepan. Cook, stirring over low heat, until onion is golden, about 5 minutes. Stir in garlic; cook 1 minute. Add tomatoes and basil; heat to a boil.

Cook, uncovered, over medium-low heat, breaking up tomatoes with side of a spoon, until soup is slightly reduced and flavors are blended, about 15 minutes.

Cool slightly and puree in food processor or blender, in batches if necessary, until smooth. Return to saucepan.

Thin with chicken or vegetable broth, if desired, until the desired thickness is achieved. (Some brands of tomatoes are juicier than others.) Add salt and pepper to taste. Makes 4 servings.

Pandorato

1 8-ounce package mozzarella cheese, cut into 8 slices

4 thin slices prosciutto, optional

8 or 16 slices (depending on the girth of the bread), each ½-inch thick, Italian bread

2 large eggs (see note)

½ cup milk (see note)

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 garlic clove, bruised with the side of a knife

Place mozzarella slices and prosciutto, if using, between bread slices to make 4 sandwiches (or more if bread is narrow). Whisk eggs and milk together in a shallow soup bowl. Dip sandwiches into the egg mixture to coat (see note).

Heat oil, butter and garlic in a medium skillet until the garlic begins to sizzle and turns golden; discard garlic.

Add the sandwiches; cook over medium-low heat until the bread is golden and the cheese melts, about 3 minutes per side. Serve warm.

Note: The amount of egg and milk needed will vary with the size of the bread. Use 1 more egg and ¼ cup more milk if more egg bath is needed.

Makes 4 servings.

TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES INTERNATIONAL


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