Call me a purist, but a proper ooey-gooey melted cheese sandwich should contain nothing more than butter, bread, and cheese. Period.
To make matters worse, I have a secret love affair with floppy American cheese and squishy white bread. I came from a wheat bread, Colby-only kind of family and always longed to find a stash of plastic-wrapped cheese singles in my refrigerator and a loaf of Wonder Bread on the counter; alas it never happened.
It turns out, however, my longing for these grocery store staples was totally in keeping with perfect grilled cheese production. History tells us the grilled cheese sandwich rose to popularity in the 1920s shortly after James L. Kraft started producing processed cheese singles and Wonder Bread hit the market; who am I to deny this classic combination of fat, carbs and protein?
So these days I make a good ole’ grilled cheese with a loaf of dense country-style white bread and a little American cheese for good measure. I marry this classic couple with a heaping dose of grated Swiss and Cheddar cheeses and create a frico inspired crust with Parmigiano-Reggiano and salted butter. My cheese choices range from the bottom of the barrel to the top of the heap, but the resulting sandwich leaves little to complain about.
This glorified grilled cheese has a shatteringly crisp exterior and the gorgeous melty center we all crave
Frico Crusted Grilled Cheese and Roasted Tomato Soup (Makes 4-6 servings)
For the Roasted Tomato Soup:
- 2 Tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
- 1 Tablespoon olive oil
- ½ Cup finely chopped onion
- ¼ Cup finely chopped celery
- ¼ Cup finely chopped carrot
- ¼ Cup finely chopped fennel
- Salt and Pepper
- 2 garlic cloves, finely minced
- 1 ½ Tablespoons tomato paste
- 2-14.5 ounce cans regular or fire-roasted tomatoes, undrained
- 2 Cups chicken or vegetable stock
- 1-2 Tablespoons sugar
- ½ teaspoon smoked paprika
- ½- ¾ Cup heavy cream
Heat 1 Tablespoon of the butter with the olive oil over medium-high heat until melted and bubbly. Add the onion, carrot, celery and fennel to the pot and reduce heat to medium. Season the veggies with a generous pinch of salt and cook for 6-8 minutes until beginning to soften. Add the garlic to the pot and stir until just fragrant (about 30 seconds). Mix in the tomato paste and increase heat slightly. Allow the tomato paste to brown slightly (about 1-2 minutes) before adding in the tomatoes with their juices. Add the stock, 1 Tablespoon of sugar, another big pinch of salt, ¼ teaspoon of pepper and the smoked paprika to the pot. Bring the mixture to a boil, reduce heat to low and allow the soup to simmer for 40 minutes stirring occasionally.
Transfer the soup to a blender and process until smooth (or use an immersion blender). Return the soup the pot and adjust seasoning with salt, pepper and up to 1 additional Tablespoon of sugar. Stir in the heavy cream to taste and keep warm until ready to serve.
For the Frico Crusted Grilled Cheese:
- 8 (1/2” thick) slices country white bread
- ¾ Cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
- 1 stick salted butter at room temperature
- 8 Slices American cheese
- 1 Cup shredded Swiss cheese
- 1 Cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
Preheat the oven to 250 degrees. Spread butter generously over one side of a piece of bread. Sprinkle some grated Parmigiano-Reggiano on to your work surface and press the buttered side of the bread into the cheese until it adheres to the butter. Place a slice of American cheese on the unbuttered side of the bread and top with ¼ Cup of shredded cheddar and Swiss cheese. Top the shredded cheese with a second slice of American cheese. Spread another slice of bread with butter and press into the shredded Parmigiano-Reggiano. Place the bread, cheese side up, on the sandwich. Repeat until you have four sandwiches.
Heat a non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the sandwiches (cooking in batches if needed) to the pan and allow to cook until butter melts and cheese on the outside of the bread becomes golden and very crispy (about 3 minutes). Flip the sandwiches and cook for an additional 3-4 minutes on the second side until the cheese is crispy.
Transfer the sandwiches to a parchment-lined sheet pan and place in the oven for 12-15 minutes until the cheese in the center of the sandwich is a gorgeous melty mess. Serve the sandwiches with the soup at once.