If you've been to our local farmer's markets in the past three weeks, you'll have noticed that Asian pears have arrived. As with the apples they closely resemble, the new crop is packed with lightly sweet nectar. Their firm crunch adds a great texture to a cheese sandwich, and the sweetness is a nice counter to the lightly salty, slightly lactic tang of an aged cheese.
Grilled cheese is easy enough that a child can make it, yet sophisticated enough that high-end restaurants like Campanile dedicate one dinner a week to them, and a food truck built its entire business around it. You already know how to make grilled cheese, so today's post is not so much a recipe, but a few ideas to consider.
1. Shred semi-soft cheeses yourself so they melt quickly. Avoid pre-shredded cheeses. While convenient, pre-shredded cheeses contain anti-clumping agents. For the same reason they keep shreds from sticking together in the package, they also prevent proper melting when you want it. Use a box grater and shred your own cheeses.
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2. Try a sandwich with a crispy Parmigiano-Reggiano crust on the outside. Mario Batali correctly calls Parmigiano the king of all cheeses. The imported stuff definitely tastes more distinctive than domestic Parmesan. The real deal will have the words Parmiggiano-Reggiano hot stamped into the wax shell of the cheese wheel.
3. Use whatever bread you prefer, but I like a white bread with pull and texture for this gig. Instead of regular, squishy white bread, I use a Pullman loaf white bread, that perfectly square loaf that used to be popular before the 1950's and the advent of Wonder bread. It's still found at Japanese, Taiwanese, Chinese and Korean bakeries. You might also see it called by its French name, pain de mie. Buy yours at Cream Pan, Diho Bakery, 99 Ranch, JJ Bakery, 85C Bakery, J Sweet Bakery, Mitsuwa, Marukai, Ebisu, Freshia, or other Asian bakeries and supermarkets.
One Asian pear, peeled and sliced into 1/8" - 1/4" thick slices.
Bread, such as a pullman style white bread
Easy melting semi-soft cheese, like Brie, Muenster, Jack,mozzarella, or Fontina. If using a mildly flavored melty cheese, consider adding a second, more sharply flavored soft cheese like chevre, blue cheese, Raclette or Morbier for a deeper cheese funk.
Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, for crusting on the outside of the sandwich
- Peel the pear with a vegetable peeler - the skins are thicker and more fibrous than apples. Cut into 1/8" thick round slices, cutting in the north pole to south pole direction.
- Preheat a nonstick pan over medium-low heat. It's much easier to make the Parmigiano crust with a non-stick pan. A too-low heat is better than too-high heat.
- Lightly spread some butter on the outside of the bread and lay it on the pan. Sprinkle melting cheese inside the bread, a slice of Asian pear, more cheese, and another slice of bread.
- After four of five minutes, the soft cheese should start melting. Lift the sandwich up, and sprinkle some Parmigiano in a thin layer in the middle of the pan. Flip your sandwich over, then lay the uncooked side on top of the Parmigiano.
- After another four minutes, the Parmigiano will adhere to the bread, and be toasty and crisp. Scrape under the cheese crust with a spatula, lift the sandwich, then repeat the Parmigiano step on the other side.