With all due respect, I think you’ve been putting cheese on the wrong side of your grilled cheese sandwiches. Or, at the least, neglecting the better ones, the exteriors. Wait, hear me out. It’s basic food math that while cold cheese is good, warm cheese is better. But if you take that a step further — and if you’re new here, let me tell you: we will always take it a step further — you will agree that melted cheese is better than warm cheese, and the melted cheese that rolls off a piece of sandwich bread and sizzles on a skillet, browning and crisping, is the top of the cheese tower… A place I’d very much like to live. Do you think a cheese tower might exist somewhere? Might it be France? Now I’m picturing an Eiffel Tower made out of cheese and what were we talking about? Oh right: melted and browned cheese wins, really for the same reason that browned butter trumps regular butter: the fats melt away from the dairy solids and toast them until they’re caramelized and achingly delicious and you forget why you’d ever eat it any other way. Don’t fight it.
Frico is the official name for it. It’s usually invoked in the realm of Parmesan-Reggiano, or at least in almost every restaurant since the wildly fric-wild heyday of the 80s and 90s, usually in lacy crisps that garnish soups, salads and the like to remind you that they’re fancy. They’re not actually fancy, though. They’re just a pinch of grated cheese, melted in a skillet or on a baking sheet until they bubble, crisp and can be lifted in one lacy disc with a spatula. And I see no reason they should they should be limited in flavor to Parmesan, or at least not when I’m craving grilled cheese and tomato soup, really the perfect early fall meal.
Here, we frico un-fancily, almost hideously, intentionally instead of accidentally between buttered bread and a hot skillet. It’s one of these tiny cooking things that you can do to what you were already making, using the same exact ingredients, that makes it infinitely better. These are my favorite tiny things.
I’ve missed you. I had realized once September hit that it was going to be chaos city in my orbit for a while, but I’d still gotten a bit of cooking done and hoped to find windows to update the site in the midst of it. You’d think by my third book tour, I’d know better. Nevertheless, London, which I returned from late Monday night (only to be fully awake again at 3:30 a.m. because hello, jet lag, and then under the weather since, bah) was otherwise such a treat, in part because it included so many sub-adventures, such as a half weekend in Abergavenny, Wales, an overnight stay at, yes, an Air Force base, a visit to Bath, Ely and Cambridge and oh, I also cooked on an Aga stove on a houseboat (link to come). It was hardly short on adventure, capped by a weekend visit from Alex, who told our son that he “was going away bring Mommy home,” which totally made my lip quiver.
12 days is a very long trip. I was there long enough that the cars no longer looked funny to me, or gave me the panic-of-imminent-death that they were on the wrong side of the road. It was long enough that I came home and asked my son if he wanted porridge for breakfast, but I meant oatmeal. I’ve lost sight of why we whip cream for desserts, when a fruit crumble is so much better thickly drizzled with it cold and fresh. I may have called something “brilliant” yesterday, when it really wasn’t. I’ve always thought that the feeling of being away is increased by the number of times when you’re so caught up in the details of being there (maybe for good stuff like whee, I’m on a boat! or stuff that’s more amusing in hindsight like being consumed with why you’re stuck on a jammed train or a fully-booked hotel you’re trying to check into at 1 a.m. can’t find your reservation or have no idea where to transfer rails because what do you have against clear signage, London, what?) and by that standard, the trip felt even longer. This is wonderful when you’re on a family summer vacation but a little sadder when you’re away from them, and I’m feeling the need to excessively dote on my people now that I’m back, which likely means more home cooking, more soaking up of weekend inspiration, and more new fun ideas to share here. Everyone wins.
[I may have gotten a little carried away with the phone photos in London? Many of these were original posted to Instagram, and you can follow me there.]
Tomato Soup: Can’t have grilled cheese without tomato soup, yes? Here’s a classic, homemade riff on a smooth creamy tomato soup (coughCampbellsstylecough). And here’s a chunkier base from fresh tomatoes that can be made with or without that thematic crouton on top.
Parade Magazine: I have five recipes for fall on the cover of the October issue Parade Magazine’s food monthly, Dash. Three are brand new (Roasted Bacon and Butternut Squash Pizza, Skillet Spirals with Cheese and Broccoli — a weeknight stovetop-then-broil mac-and-cheese — and Carrot Soup with Tiny Turkey Meatballs and Spinach) and two are possibly new-to-you, riffs on Smitten Kitchen Cookbook recipes (Baked Wild Rice with Kale, Caramelized Onions and Soft-Cooked Eggs and Harvest Roast Chicken with Olives and Grapes). All are things I absolutely love to make as the weather cools off and I hope will make it into your rotation too.
One year ago: Homemade Wheat Thins and Crackly Banana Bread
Two years ago: Apple and Honey Challah and Apple Pie Cookies
Three years ago: Skirt Steak Salad with Arugula and Blue Cheese, Monkey Cake and Beef Chili with Sour Cream and Cheddar Biscuits
Four years ago: Roasted Tomatoes and Cipollini, Cheesecake Marbled Brownies and Grilled Lamb Kebabs + Tzatziki
Five years ago: Bourbon Peach Hand Pies, Raspberry Breakfast Bars and The Baked Brownie, Spiced Up
Six years ago: Tortilla de Patatas (recently updated and streamlined; still a favorite!) and Apple and Yogurt Cake
Seven years ago: Penne a la Vodka + Belgian Brownies and 44-Clove Garlic Soup (so good with all of the newly-dried garlic at the markets now!)
Frico Grilled Cheese Sandwich
A more tone-aware food writer would ask you to forgive them for the simplicity of this recipe. Grilled cheese? You think we need a recipe for cheese + bread + butter in a frying pan? But I won’t to because making it this way changes everything. You can’t be convinced by the aroma of buttery, toasting, crisping cheese in a hot skillet because you haven’t made it yet, but I think that once you experience it — I mean, take a deep drag off the kitchen air and be so happy that you’re home again — it will be what keeps you from making grilled cheese any other way again.
I like a hearty country wheat bread here, not too thickly sliced or it’s hard for the cheese inside to melt. You may more or less cheese depending on the size of your bread slices, and your tastes.
Yield: 1 sandwich. Scale up to share.
2 slices bread of your choice
2 teaspoons butter, salted or unsalted
1/2 cup (2 ounces) coarsely grated cheddar
Spread butter on one side of each slice of bread, the one that will be on the outside of the sandwich. Scatter all but 2 tablespoons cheese unbuttered side of one slice. Top with second slice, so that the buttered side faces out. Heat skillet over low-to-moderate heat. (I like to use a well-seasoned cast iron frying pan here.) Sprinkle 1 tablespoon cheese roughly in center of skillet. Place sandwich on top. Cook sandwich until golden underneath and cheese browns and crisps, about 2 to 4 minutes. Carefully lift melted (frico-ed) cheese and bread onto spatula, sprinkle remaining spoonful of cheese back in skillet, then flip sandwich over on top of it. Cook on second side until golden and crisp as well, pressing down on it with the spatula to encourage it to all come together.
Transfer to a plate, cut in half if desired, and dig in.
Alternate riffs on the classic: Are you a purist or do you like to put other things on your grilled cheese? I’m a sucker for sweet and sour red onions with a baby Swiss or gruyere cheese (this recipe in the book). But when I’m using classic cheddar, I either like a thin slice of tomato inside my sandwich, or sometimes, like the day I made these, the thinnest schmear of smooth Dijon and a dash of onion powder.