Most of us have fond childhood memories of hot, gooey grilled cheese sandwiches for lunch on a cold wintry day. If your memories are anything like mine, those sandwiches were typically made with soft white bread and American cheese.
While that kid-friendly version hit all the right notes at the time, as an adult who enjoys more flavor and texture in my food, I find it less appealing.
Still, the grilled cheese sandwich remains a go-to lunch or dinner option in my house. I’ve just tweaked it a bit to make my grown-up palate happy.
This week, I’ve taken one of my favorite cold weather meals, French onion soup, distilled its flavor down to deeply caramelized onions, infused with beef broth and wine, and tucked between two slices of rustic Italian bread, along with a generous amount of cheese.
Caramelizing onions takes awhile, as it’s important to brown them over low heat, to ensure that the onion’s natural sweetness is coaxed out. That low heat is critical when you’re looking for actual caramelization. The urge to rush it by amping up the heat is understandable, but you will likely end up with onions that are more burnt than caramelized, and it only takes one bite to understand the importance of the distinction.
Once the onions are properly browned, beef broth and a splash of wine are added, and the mixture is cooked until all the liquid is absorbed. The result is a concentrated flavor of the classic French soup.
For the cheesy part of the sandwich, I use a combination of Gruyère and Cheddar. Of course, Gruyère is the traditional topping to French onion soup, and its nuttiness gives this sandwich a lovely complexity. I like to combine it with Cheddar to soften the flavor of the Gruyère and give the grilled cheese a maximum amount of meltedness.
The crowning touch on this already delightfully decadent sandwich is a crispy coating of Parmesan cheese on the outside. It’s easily done by buttering the outside of the bread and sprinkling it with grated, high-quality Parmesan (look for Parmigiano-Reggiano), before cooking the sandwich in a skillet. The result is an absolutely over-the-top, addictive, frico-like coating that will turn this childhood favorite into a memorable adult meal.
Meredith Deeds is a cookbook author and food writer from Edina. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.