Last November, I finally got my chicken noodle soup exactly the way I always wanted it but when I brought it to the table, I couldn’t eat it. This happens sometimes. Sometimes I just spend too much time working on a dish and I’m rather sick of it by the time we eat it, in only the way that a person with first world problems can be. I chalked it up to that. I did not chalk it up to the pregnancy I’d found out about approximately 15 minutes prior, because my mother never had morning sickness with either me or my sister, I never had morning sickness with my son, and certainly didn’t think it was going to happen because of a 16 day-old rapidly dividing and already beloved cluster of cells.
The next night, the leftovers, wasn’t much better. How had I ever liked something so revolting? “Slippery noodles… soft chickeny bits of celery… sweet supple carrots… everything buttery and swaddling and rich…” I tried to explain to my husband who cracked up at how I could make even the most delicious things sound like a shortcut to the vomitorium. The problem was, my son went nuts for it. Every day he came home from school and hopefully asked “Are we having chicken noodle soup for dinner?” and every day, was crushed to hear the word no. My husband finally took pity on him a couple weeks later and made it from my recipe. I hid in the bedroom until the smell was gone. And so it went for the next 38 dreary weeks. Food was uninteresting or downright terrible. I was gloomy because I never realized how much my motivation here is driven by hunger and a now-elusive appetite. I wondered if it would always be this way.
The day we took Anna home from the hospital, my mother-in-law insisted upon heating up the soup she’d brought over for my lunch and I was two spoonfuls into it when I realized: I was eating the enemy. Happily. “How did I ever hate this? This is amazing: I love the noodles! The chicken! The carrots!” I wanted to inhale the whole bowl. I wanted seconds. Fourths. I wanted sweet potatoes and winter squash and omelets and caramelized onions and every single thing that I’d ever found disgusting and it’s been that way since. I’m cured! Not to overstate it, but I feel totally alive again. And so it should be no surprise that I couldn’t stay out of the kitchen long.
I would not say that my first attempt back at the stove was a resounding success. In the weeks before my daughter (still getting used to saying this!) was born, I began compiling at a list of Quick Recipes for Sleepy Times, things that seemed too simple not to try if I could steal 15 minutes downtime and was eager to do anything, albeit briefly, besides parenting. This was at the top of it. I prayed I’d never be too tired or crazed to slice tomatoes on bread, as if I didn’t know that’s exactly what the early weeks are like.
The idea behind this is to take the perfect high summer classic — a tomato sandwich on hearty bread with mayo, salt and pepper — and add one glorious extra thing, a slice of provolone cheese, fried. So it forms a brown crust, like frico but with a melty center. I was excited about this because while better frying cheeses exist — halloumi is at the top of the list, but I tend not to focus on it much here because it’s both elusive (even in NYC, I only find it about half the time I’m looking for it) and expensive (I’ve never bought a block for less than $10, and could easily demolish it myself in one meal… but try not to) — if there was a way to have a similar effect with a generally overlooked inexpensive deli aisle staple, I’d never turn it down.
Jennifer Hess, a longtime food blogger whose ideas always make me want to stop what I’m doing to run to the kitchen, warns on Food52 to that frying the cheese would be “tricky and messy, and you’ll probably curse my name, but it can be done…” and, lo, I did it but without any particular grace or skill. I’ll chalk it up to 18 days of sporadic sleep. Regardless, I want/need you to know that even with the scraped-up brown mess masquerading as fried provolone I flopped onto our sandwiches, it still 18 ways amazing, the absolutely most wonderful summer lunch there could be. We inhaled it. I wanted to make it again the next day, alas, “the new day” in new parent-ese is roughly 3 to 4 weeks. Regardless, it’s totally going to taste like triumph. I hope you get a chance to try it, much sooner.
Thank you: For your good cheer on our announcement. You make it really fun to share great news here. I’m a little behind on well, everything, but also comment responses, although I read every single one twice. I expect to be all caught up by the time she graduates high school. :)
One year ago: Easiest Fridge Dill Pickles
Two years ago: One-Pan Farro with Tomatoes
Three years ago: Peach Pie
Four years ago: Whole Wheat Raspberry Ricotta Scones
Five years ago: Thai-Style Chicken Legs and Peach Blueberry Cobbler
Six years ago: Blueberry Boy Bait and Lemony Zucchini Goat Cheese Pizza
Seven years ago: Chocolate Sorbet
Eight years ago: Classic Madeleines, Mediterranean/Israeli Salad + Pita Chips
And for the other side of the world:
Six Months Ago: Mushroom Marsala Pasta Bake
1.5 Years Ago: Chicken Pho
2.5 Years Ago: Buckwheat Baby with Salted Caramel Syrup
3.5 Years Ago: Lentil Soup with Sausage, Chard and Sizzling Garlic Oil
I didn’t buy fancy or aged provolone to make this, although they may have worked better. I wanted to know if it would work with the most unsung and readily available type, the kind that comes presliced and usually hangs out in the packaged deli meats aisle. It was thinner than the 1/4-inch slices Hess recommends, so I used two together at once. It was definitely a mess once heated, more of a puddle that I scraped off the frying pan (nonstick is your friend here) and flipped than a lovely browned underside. I assumed that it would go in the trash and we’d never speak of this, but the parts that had browned look — and tasted — amazing. Not a speck was wasted. I suspect most of us already know how to make the perfect summer tomato sandwich, but should be looking for a little something extra on yours today, mess or not, may we highly recommend some fried cheese?
Makes 2 big sandwiches, or 4 open-faced smaller ones, tartine-style
4 1/2-inch thick slices your favorite sturdy bread*
4 tablespoons mayonnaise
Two to four 1/4-inch slices provolone cheese (use larger amount for smaller slices)
Olive oil2 medium-sized perfectly ripe tomatoes, sliced
Flaky salt and freshly cracked black pepper, to taste
Spread each slice of bread with mayonnaise and set aside.
Heat a skillet, preferably nonstick, over medium-low heat. Add a thin layer of olive oil and let it heat until shimmering. Add first slice of provone to skillet and fry it until crusty and golden underneath. Using a very thin spatula (this “flexible fish spatula” style is my favorite, for everything) carefully flip slice. It’s probably not going to flip neatly and you’ll probably curse me and also Hess but a messy slice will taste no less delicious than a photogenic one, promise. Just do your best. Fry the slice on the other side until golden underneath, then lift this browned cheese mess out of the pan and onto your first prepared bread slice. Repeat with remaining slices of cheese, frying more than one at a time if you’re now more comfortable with the process.
Arrange slices of tomatoes over fried provolone on bread, sprinkle with salt and pepper and eat with one hand while calming an irate newborn with the other (if you’re me) or with two hands, from a plate, sitting down with a napkin on your lap, you civilized thing (if you’re not me, clearly).
* Forgive me if I sound like a broken record, but my favorite is the whole wheat sourdough (a.k.a. miche or pain de campagne; think: Poilâne, but not requiring a ticket to Paris) you see here and elsewhere on the site. If you live near a Le Pain Quotidien, they sell theirs in quarters from gigantic loaves. Balthazar also makes their own, which is wonderful, and also sells it in quarters, inexpensively.