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June 17, 2006

Grilled Cheese Sandwich Sticks

This past Iron Chef, I was torpedoed by the challengers, but I don't mean that as a criticism. Rather, one of their dishes was a particularly bold move that I had to appreciate, even if I was disappointed by it. Back around Iron Chef V, we wrote out official scoring guidelines to try to instill some kind of consistency. Since our scoring system involves both technical and creative scores, I wanted to give examples of dishes that might score high in technical, creative, both or neither. So I detailed four variations on a grilled cheese sandwich with tomato soup. Shortly thereafter, I decided that at some point it'd be fun to actually realize my high technical, high creative example, and I bided my time, waiting for the perfect ingredient to support my grilled cheese plan.

Then the Iron Chef Garlic challengers had to go and beat me to the punch.

It's my own fault for waiting so long, and while it was slightly galling to see them hijack my idea, it was a bold, competitive move that I entirely support. In their shoes, I'd probably have done the same thing. And the judges appreciated it quite a bit. But since I will no longer be doing my grilled cheese sticks with tomato dip for Iron Chef, I figured I might as well do it for fun. Tonight, my ladylove and I were sitting around the house, not sure what to have for dinner, and I figured I'd ransack the kitchen and see what I could scrounge up. When I realized I had most of the ingredients I would have used for the grilled cheese sticks, I figured I'd give them a run. The result certainly wasn't what I would have done for Iron Chef... it was a makeshift version built on what we had lying around... but it was tasty, so I figured I'd write it up. The tomato dip needs work, I'd use different cheeses for the filling, I want the sandwich to be a lot more stick-like, and the whole enterprise is just crying out for some crispy sizzled sausage. But here it is, anyway:

Dominic Armato
1.5 C. tomato sauce
2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper, to taste
3 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 small yellow onion
1/2 tsp. paprika
1 garlic clove
salt and pepper, to taste

4 slices sandwich bread
2 Tbsp. unsalted butter
4 slices muenster cheese
1/3 C. grated parmesan cheese

1 Tbsp. unsalted butter

1/4 C. grated pecorino cheese
Grilled Cheese Sandwich Sticks
with Caramelized Onions and
Tomato-Pecorino Dip

Makes 2 Sandwiches

In a small saucepan, combine the tomato sauce, 2 Tbsp. olive oil, salt and pepper and simmer over medium low heat until reduced to a thick tomato dip. Hold the sauce over low heat.

While the tomato sauce is reducing, cook the onions. Slice the onions, and combine with 3 Tbsp. olive oil in a large saucepan with a cover. When the onions start to soften, add the paprika and salt the onions to taste. Continue cooking the onions until they are lightly caramelized, about 15-20 minutes. Thinly slice the garlic clove, and add to the onions. Continue cooking until the garlic softens, about 1-2 minutes, then transfer the onions to a dish.

While the onions are cooking, prepare the sandwiches. Butter one side of each slice of sandwich bread, then generously sprinkle the buttered side with the grated parmesan cheese. When the onions are done cooking and have been removed from the pan, add 1 Tbsp. to the pan and swirl to mix with the oil and paprika left in the pan. Add two slices of bread to the pan, buttered side down. Top each slice with half of the caramelized onions and garlic, and two slices of muenster cheese. Top with the remaining two slices of bread, buttered side up, and cover the pan. Cook over medium low heat, checking occasionally, until the bread is toasted and crispy, about 4-5 minutes. Carefully flip the sandwiches, cover the pan, and continue cooking until the other side is toasted and the muenster is melted, another 4-5 minutes.

Mix the grated pecorino into the tomato sauce, and spoon the sauce into ramekins or some other small dish. Remove the sandwiches from the pan, slice into strips, and plate along with the tomato sauce.

UPDATE : This was the first of a two-part post about taking a rough recipe and refining it. The final recipe can be found at Grilled Cheese Sticks v2.0


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