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Chef's Corner: Grilled Cheese & Caramelized Onion Sandwich


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Wichcraft is a sandwich restaurant (and cookbook) from Top Chef host/judge Tom Colicchio. They describe this sandwich in terms that suggest a more or less deconstructed French onion soup. Just caramelized onions and cheese on rye. We stress the "just" because when you use really good cheese, this two ingredient (plus bread) dish is quick and ultra-delish. We added our own quick tomato soup, some pickles and chips and dined like we were in NYC.


Julia Child's French onion soup uses a mixture of good Swiss cheeses (think gruyère and emmentaler). What we had on hand was a French comté from Howie's which was great.


We made two sandwiches.

 

CARAMELIZED ONIONS AND CHEESE ON RYE

  • 3 oz. really good Swiss cheeses such as emmantaler or gruyère or French comté (or a mixture of such). More or less to taste.

  • 2 medium onions sliced 1/8" give or take (you can always use more)

  • 1 TB fresh oregano or 1 tsp dried oregano, chopped

  • 2 TB olive oil or butter (or a combination)

  • dash of sugar

  • salt and pepper to taste

  • 4 slices Jewish rye bread (the type with caraway seeds)

Heat the oil and/or butter in a pan (or better yet, an enameled cast iron dutch oven or pot). Add the onions, oregano, sugar, salt and pepper. Cook, stirring, over medium-high heat to get things going, then reduce the heat to medium or medium-low and continue to cook until the onions are reduced and nicely caramelized. This could take about 45 minutes. Don't go too far or eventually the onions will burn.


Put half the cheese and half the onions on each of two pieces of bread. Cover with the rest of the bread. Unlike many grilled cheese recipes, you don't need any butter on the bread if using a sandwich press. Cook in a panini press for approximately 5 to 8 minutes (depends on the heat settings of your press). If you don't have a panini press, no problem. Construct your sandwiches, lightly butter the pieces of bread that will contact the pan, and place in a heavy pan. Put aluminum foil on top of the sandwiches and then a large heavy object (such as a slightly smaller sized pan) on top of the foil. If the top pan isn't heavy be creative and add weight to it. We might fill a tea kettle and use that; it is usually the right size. Cook over moderately high heat


Leave the cooking sandwiches alone for the first part of cooking so that they develop a nice light brown crust and the cheese has melted.


Remove and serve immediately. Pair with pickles, chips and quick tomato soup if desired.


WINE SUGGESTION: We had a really good, intense pinot noir.


 

Quick Tomato Soup


This was about right for our two sandwiches, but we could have had more. Easily double it starting with a large (28 oz) can of tomatoes.


There are a large number of culinary thymes available, and one of our favorites grows in our garden. Since there is caraway in the bread, using caraway thyme is a no brainer. Substitute caraway seeds if desired.

  • 1 14oz can of tomatoes including liquid. They can be whole or diced.

  • 1/2 medium onion, diced

  • 2 cloves garlic, mashed or minced

  • 1 TB olive oil (more or less to taste)

  • salt and pepper to taste

  • caraway thyme or whole caraway seeds (to taste, optional)

  • few drops hot sauce (optional, to taste; we used a very hot habanero hot sauce)

In a medium sized pot, sauté the garlic and onion in some of the oil until cooked but not browned. Put the canned tomatoes in the pot and stir (so as to incorporate the oil) then place it all in a blender. Add salt and pepper to taste. Blend on high. The soup will become a lighter color and a little creamy looking. Add a bit more oil while blending for additional flavor.


Return the mixture to the pot. Add caraway thyme or caraway seeds (perhaps a half teaspoon) to taste, if using. We used a small handfull of fresh caraway thyme, secured with a string. If using caraway seeds, simmer soup until it picks up the flavor of the seeds. If using thyme, reheat, remove the thyme, and serve with the sandwiches.





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