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Everything Cheddar Tomato Bacon Grilled Cheese Sandwich

Who doesn’t love a grilled cheese sandwich? And particularly one that elevates the pedestrian sandwich to sublime, oozing with cheeses, herbs, bacon and tomato. If that’s not enough to convince you, just wait till you crunch into the coating of parmesan cheese and “everything-bagel” seeds after crisping the sandwich in butter. After I saw this posted on Half Baked Harvest‘s Instagram page, I knew it was in my future. Bacon is not a staple in my house, but I bought it to make this sandwich, and have to confess, I’ve been enjoying bacon for breakfast, lunch and dinner. It’s an indulgence to be sure, but even if you make it only once a year, this sandwich is worth the calories.

I cooked the bacon a day ahead, to make things go more quickly when I prepared the sandwiches the next day. When you’re ready to get the sandwiches started, slice the tomatoes and salt them first, then let them rest on paper towels to drain off some of the water, so your sandwich doesn’t get soggy. Mix the cheeses with the herbs. I used a combination of sharp white cheddar and Havarti with dill.

Don’t add any salt to the cheese, since the “everything bagel” seasoning (bought at Trader Joe’s but you can make your own with the recipe below) is salty enough. Spread the butter on the outside bread slices, then sprinkle with the parmesan cheese (which also is plenty salty) and the “everything bagel” seeds.

Assemble the interior of the sandwich, placing the cheese, tomatoes and bacon inside,

Top with the second slice of bread and sauté in butter.

Flip the sandwiches over and cook until nicely browned on both sides. Use a little more butter or olive oil if needed. (This is definitely NOT a low calorie meal).

Then get some napkins ready to keep your hands clean, and enjoy one of the best grilled cheese sandwiches you’ll ever eat.

To really complete the meal, make yourself some tomato soup, the traditional accompaniment to grilled cheese sandwiches. And don’t forget to take a photo before you eat, as the bowl says.Click here to connect with me on Instagram and find out what Ciao Chow Linda is up to in the kitchen (and other places too) each day.

Everything Cheddar Tomato Bacon Grilled Cheese Sandwich
 
Author:
Ingredients
  • 1 tomato, thinly sliced
  • kosher salt and black pepper
  • 4 slices sourdough bread
  • 1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
  • ½ cup shredded Havarti cheese
  • ¼ cup fresh basil, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
  • 1 tablespoon fresh chopped chives
  • 4 tablespoons salted butter, at room temperature
  • 2 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese
  • 2-4 tablespoons everything bagel spice (recipe below)
  • 2-4 slices cooked crispy bacon
  • 1-2 tablespoons butter or olive oil to cook the sandwiches
Instructions
  1. Arrange the tomatoes on a cutting board and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
  2. Let sit 15 minutes to draw out excess moisture.
  3. In a bowl, combine the cheddar, Havarti, basil, thyme, and chives.
  4. Brush the outside of each slice of bread with butter.
  5. Sprinkle the parmesan and everything spice over both buttered sides of the bread, pressing the spice mix gently into the bread to adhere.
  6. On the inside of half of the slices of bread, evenly layer half of the cheese mix, the tomatoes, bacon, and the remaining cheese. Add the top piece of bread.
  7. Heat 1-2 tablespoons butter or olive oil in large skillet over medium heat.
  8. Place the sandwiches in the skillet and cook until golden on each side, about 3-5 minutes per side.
  9. Everything Spice: In a small bowl, combine 3 tablespoons toasted white or black sesame seeds, 2 tablespoons poppy seeds, 2 teaspoons dried onion., 2 teaspoons dried garlic, and 1 teaspoon kosher salt. Keep stored in a cool, dry place.
 

Rice, Salami and Cheese Casserole

Hide your bathroom scales if you decide to make this one – it’s loaded with cheese, salami and eggs, but it’s oh so worth it. Just make sure to invite a lot of people over. Even after serving it to my Italian chit-chat group (and there were 16 of us at the table that day), I still had enough left over to share with two different neighbors, and for my own dinner. The recipe comes from my friend Milena, who hails from La Spezia, and who is part of that Italian chit-chat group. You can make it without the meat if you choose, but the salami gives it a nice, spicy accent. I used a mixture of a basic Genoa-type salami, and one that was coated with black pepper. You could skip the salami and use cubed ham instead if you prefer.

Here is the pile of cheeses that went into it – mozzarella, pecorino and parmesan. Milena’s original recipe also called for cheddar cheese, but I don’t think it needs it, so I left it out.

You mix the rice, cheeses and salami with some beaten eggs and milk and press it into a casserole.

Then poke holes all around the casserole and pour in more of the eggs and milk mixture.

Sprinkle some bread crumbs and paprika on top and bake for about 45 minutes.

It’s hard not to keep eating it, but with bathing suit season right around the corner, I had to control myself.

But not for long. Guess what was mid-morning snack the next day?

Click here to connect with me on Instagram and find out what’s cooking in Ciao Chow Linda’s kitchen each day (and more)

Rice, Salami and Cheese Casserole
 
Cook time
Total time
 
Author:
Serves: 12-16 servings
Ingredients
  • 3 cups rice (I used arborio but long grain white rice is fine.)
  • 7 cups water
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 stick of unsalted butter (8 tablespoons)
  • 4 eggs
  • ½ lb. diced Genoa salami
  • ½ lb. cubed or shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 1 cup grated cheese (I used a mixture of parmesan and pecorino)
  • 2 cups milk
Instructions
  1. Cook rice in water and salt.
  2. Add the butter and mix well.
  3. Add the cheeses and salami and mix well.
  4. Beat the eggs and milk, and add half to the cooked rice mixture.
  5. Put the rice mixture into a greased, ovenproof casserole. (mine was 9½ inches by 12 inches)
  6. With a fork, poke holes on the top and pour the rest of the milk-egg mixture over the rice.
  7. Sprinkle with bread crumbs and paprika.
  8. Bake at 350 degrees, covered for 45 minutes.
  9. Let it rest for five minutes before serving.

Girasole Rustico (Sunflower Tart)

I subscribe to an Italian TV channel and one of the programs I like to watch is a cooking show called “La Prova del Cuoco” (The Cook’s Test). The host, Antonella Clerici, invites well known Italian chefs, as well as members of the public to cook each day. On a recent program, this girasole rustico was prepared by chef Roberto Valluzzi, and it caught my eye right away. I thought it would be perfect to prepare for my Italian chit-chat group, since we usually offer both savory and sweet things in our weekly get-together.

This not only was delicious, but was a snap to prepare and makes a really beautiful presentation. You can make the pastry with your own recipe, but for this particular day, I took a shortcut and bought frozen pastry from Trader Joe’s.

All you really need to do is sauté some scallions with spinach and a couple of anchovies (don’t worry, it doesn’t give it a fishy taste. The anchovies “melt” and add great flavor). Let the mixture cool, then mix it with ricotta cheese and parmesan cheese.

Lay out the one layer of the pastry on a cookie sheet (I used a pizza stone) and spread the filling all around.

Crimp the edges with a fork, and place a small bowl in the center. You’ll need this as a guide.

Make cuts through the pastry in even measurements, then take each section and give it a twist.

It will look like this when you’re finished. Remove the bowl and sprinkle with sesame seeds or poppy seeds.

Bake for 30-45 minutes until golden brown. Cut into sections and let people serve themselves.

Buon Appetito!

Thanks to all you readers who left a comment on my last post. Six of you will be receiving a tin of these delicious Cornish sardines and you were picked by a random number generator. I wish I had enough tins to send to everyone who left a comment. The winners are Marie, Jan Mannino, Joanne W., Claudia, Victoria Skelly, and Gloria. Please send me an email (linda@ciaochowlinda.com) with your home address so I can send you the tin. I hope you enjoy them.

 

Girasole Rustico (Sunflower Tart)
 
Ingredients
  • 2 round sheets of your favorite homemade pastry recipe or purchased (I used Trader Joe's brand)
  • 1 cup ricotta
  • ½ cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 2 T. olive oil
  • 1 box of frozen chopped spinach, thawed
  • 2 scallions, sliced
  • 2 anchovy fillets
  • salt, pepper to taste
  • dash of hot pepper flakes
Instructions
  1. Sauté the scallions in the olive oil with the anchovy fillets, until the scallions are soft and the anchovies are almost "melted." Add the spinach, salt, pepper and hot pepper flakes. Set aside to cool.
  2. When cool, add the spinach mixture to the ricotta and parmesan cheese and blend well in a bowl.
  3. Lay one layer of pastry on a round cooking sheet (I used a pizza stone). You may want to grease the cookie sheet just for extra insurance so it doesn't stick, or you can place the pastry on a piece of baking parchment paper.
  4. Spread the cooled spinach mixture over the pastry.
  5. Lay the second sheet of pastry over the spinach mixture and press gently all around, but more firmly at the edges. Seal by pressing fork tines around the perimeter.
  6. Place a small bowl in the center of the pastry, and cut all around the edges, stopping at the bowl.
  7. Pick up each cut piece and twist gently.
  8. Sprinkle some sesame seeds over the middle of the pastry and bake in a 350 degree oven for 30 to 45 minutes or until the pastry is cooked.
 

Cherry Tomato Crostata

 Sometimes friends ask me if I really cook all the things I post on Ciao Chow Linda. Well, yes, I explain, and lots more too. Some of the things I cook turn out to be less than blog-worthy though, and that included a tomato ricotta tart I made a couple of weeks. It looked lovely, but the crust wasn’t cooked all the way through, as you might be able to tell from the photo below:

  I tried again with the same crust, this time rolling the dough really thin, using a freeform, crostata shape instead of the removable bottom tart pan.  I decided to skip the ricotta cheese in favor of caramelized onions, gruyere and parmesan cheese. And I went with cherry tomatoes, since I still had so many ripening in the garden. (OK, I admit it, aside from the crust, this is an entirely different recipe from the first tomato tart.) The cherry tomato variety I’ve been growing – “black cherry” – has a darker hue and a sweeter taste than the bright red ones more commonly seen in the markets. But any cherry tomato variety will do for this recipe – even yellow ones. You can cut the tomatoes in half if you like, but this time around, I left them whole.
Caramelized onions – one of my very favorite foods – are a key component of this dish – . I’ve always thought that the next time I put my house up for sale, I’d ignore that advice from realtors to infuse the house with the smell of freshly baked bread or chocolate chip cookies. Nope, for my money, you can lure prospective buyers better with the intoxicating aroma of onions sautéeing in olive oil or butter. Bake this crostata for the open house and you might be able to seal the deal.
The crust is really special too – it’s imbued with the goodness of parmesan cheese, fresh herbs and cracked black pepper. Roll it out thinly, then layer the cheeses and caramelized onions on top, leaving about two inches all the around the perimeter for crimping.
Scatter some fresh herbs (in this case, oregano and thyme) and place the tomatoes on top. 
Bake at high heat (425 degrees) but keep an eye on it near the end, covering the edges of the pastry with aluminum foil if it looks like it might burn.
I served it as a main course, along with romano beans and fresh sweet corn. But this would work great as an appetizer too, cut into smaller pieces.

Cherry Tomato Crostata
printable recipe here

Crust

1 cup flour
1/4 cup cornmeal
1/4 cup parmesan cheese
1 T. finely minced fresh herbs (thyme, oregano or sage)
1 t. salt
1/2 t. freshly cracked black pepper
1 stick cold butter
1 large egg yolk, beaten with 3 T. ice water

Place the flour, cornmeal, parmesan cheese, salt, pepper and sage in a food processor and pulse until mixed well together. Add the butter in small pieces until the mixture looks like coarse sand. Add the egg yolk and water and mix it just enough until it starts to hold together. If it looks too dry, add more ice water as needed. Shape the dough into a disk and wrap in plastic, then place in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes. (It freezes really well too.)

Filling
1 large, sweet onion (about two cups sliced thinly)
1 T. olive oil
1 cup freshly grated gruyere cheese
1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
2 dozen cherry tomatoes (more or less, depending on how big they are)
fresh thyme
fresh oregano

Cook the sliced onions in the olive oil – slowly – until they turn golden brown. This will take at least 1/2 hour, maybe 45 minutes. Let them cool slightly.
On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough into a thin round – about 1/8th inch thick and about 14 inches in diameter. If the dough is too thick, it won’t cook all the way through.  Transfer to a large cookie sheet or baking dish.
Spread the cheeses onto the dough, excluding about two inches all around the circumference. Place the caramelized onions over the cheese, then scatter bits of the fresh thyme and fresh oregano over that. Top with the cherry tomatoes, then bring the edges toward the center and crimp together as you go. Bake in a preheated oven at 425 degrees for 1/2 hour. If crust gets brown too quickly, lower the heat to 400, and cover the edges with strips of aluminum foil.

Parmigiano Reggiano

If you put me on a desert isle and told me I could eat only one cheese for the rest of my life, (The cheese fairies would deliver it, in case you’re wondering) the answer would be a no-brainer: parmigiano reggiano.

I never get tired of the intense flavor, the little crunchy grains of an aged parmigiano between your teeth and the versatility that it offers. You can enjoy a chunk of parmigiano alongside a glass of wine; you can grate it over pasta or vegetables; you can melt it into casseroles or other dishes; you can add the rind to soup to lend more flavor, etc., etc., etc.

In short, it’s not called “The King of Cheeses” for nothing. On our recent trip to Italy, we were tootling along in the car one day, hoping to see a few castles in the countryside between Piacenza and Parma. Unfortunately it was a Monday, a day when castles and museums are closed. But lucky for us, I spotted the following building along a road near the town of Soragna:

“Make a U-turn. Quick,” I said to my husband. So he did – and we made a beeline back to the Caseificio Sociale Pongennaro, one of the approximately 450 dairies where the king of cheeses is made. And I do mean made. The consortium of parmigiano makers has adopted a slogan of “Non si fabbrica, si fa,” meaning that “Parmigiano is not manufactured, it’s made,” and this implies the use of time-honored methods and no preservatives or additives.

It can only be called parmigiano reggiano if the cows are raised and the cheese is made in any of four provinces in the region of Emilia Romagna: Parma, Reggio Emilia, Modena and Bologna.
If you’re eating Grana Padano, its sister-cheese, you’re also eating a delicious cheese but one made under entirely different standards and from cows that are permitted a broader range of food and that are raised in an area that’s twice the size of the area where parmigiano is made.

For a cheese to be called parmigiano reggiano, the cows are permitted to eat forage, mainly hay, grown only in the designated region and the forage must not have been treated with additives nor heated by fermentation. The cows are not allowed to eat any animal by-products or food of animal origin.

Cheese made according to the long list of rules is branded with a variety of marks including the acronym D.O.P. which stands for the Protected Designation of Origin. The dairy is also identified,as well as the production month and year.
In the photo above, the cheese was made in February 2007, hence it was 24 months old when I took the photo.

The cheese is made every day, year round. By 4 a.m. cheesemakers start boiling the milk in huge copper cauldrons.

Unfortunately, we arrived too late to watch the cheesemakers stirring the mixture and draining the curds from the cauldron into molds, but were able to see the huge rounds of cheese as they sat immersed in large vats of salted water. Cheesemakers at the Caseificio Pongennaro make 36 forms a day, each weighing about 40 kilos, or 88 pounds, according to Mara Marenzoni, the wife of Raffaelo Rainieri, one of the 15 partners of the caseificio.

The large rounds of cheese sit for 20 days in the salted water before the aging begins. “You can’t call it parmigiano if it has less than one year of aging,” Mara said.

The longer the aging, the more complex the taste, although if it has aged much longer than 36 months, the cheese generally takes on a less desirable flavor. The 24-month aged cheese at Caseficio Pongennaro’s shop sells for 10.60 euros a kilo (about $14.00 for 2.2 pounds) while the 36-month aged parmigiano sells for 12.40 euros a kilo (about $16.00 for 2.2 pounds).

Now if you want to bring back a whole round of a 36-month aged parmigiano, it’ll set you back around $645.00. In Italy, it’s not uncommon to find them at weddings or banquets, split in half and served in chunks. However, it might be a little heavy to fit that much into your carry-on luggage. But you can always find room for a kilo or two.

I can leave it to other visitors to Italy to buy the Prada purses, the Armani suits and the Gucci shoes, but I never come back without a supply of Parmigiano cheese. There’s no prohibition against bringing back hard cheeses through U.S. customs and the quality is incomparable, especially if you’ve bought your cheese right at the dairy. The hard part is not eating it all in the first few days of your return. Buon appetito.