Not exactly one of the times where you’d go, Oh, the poor dear. Look at her, shunning restaurant food, slaving for five minutes over a measly sandwich…
Sorry, I couldn’t help a little swagger. Nor having seconds of this cheesy, crispy, warm, juicy apply sandwich.
Okay, well if you factor in the homemade bread, which I made over the weekend, this meal took a little longer than five minutes total. But it’s Thursday now, and that loaf’s earned its keep. I made just half a sandwich for a late-night round of seconds (as I’m wont to do these days… gotta cut back), but the great part about this meal is that the leftover raw materials, apples, cheese, and carrots, are also almost as good to eat just like that — raw.
I got my tax return today! I felt like celebrating a little with a splurge, so I walked over to Murray’s Cheese at Grand Central Market and got some expensive cave-aged gruyere. Ooh, the cave part just tickles my nostrils alone. What were those crazy Frenchmen thinking when they first began tucking their finest inside dank little crags in the earth? I think I have an idea: mine, Mine, all MINE! The cheesemonger at Murray’s informed me that the only type of gruyere they were carrying, Le Gruyere Switzerland from Gourmino had won first place prize at the 2008 World Cheese Championship… meaning, it’s the best cheese in the world.
Well, you can imagine how I walked out the door after paying $10 for a nicely sized wedge just pleased as punch. When I got home and tasted it, I noticed less sharpness than other gruyeres, and less of that crispy, crunchety crumbliness that others tend to have. It was smoother and richer, with a slightly floral nose, and true to its description, melted very nicely (and quickly).
This was good, because I’d intended it for a very simple, quick sandwich. This recipe is also an exercise in DIY kitchen gadgetry. I don’t own a panini press, nor can I justify it after tonight. I’d thought I had one of those square cast-iron slabs with the griddle marks on one side that you’re supposed to heat up and then press down on top of the sandwich, but I must have misplaced it during my last move. No problem. I heated up a heavy, cast-iron Dutch oven instead and pressed that on top of the sandwich. Sure, it didn’t have the griddle lines, but it was heavy enough to smoosh the pieces of bread together just enough so that the cheese oozed out a tiny bit from the air bubbly country bread, forming little cheesy crusts along the flat surface of one side. You know, like a panini. And the Granny Smith apples retained most of their firmness in that short cooking span, while releasing a little of their sweet juices onto the bread, too.
Next, I don’t have a mandoline or any fancy tools for shredding long, clean wisps of veggies. But I do have your humble old peeler, which works great with carrots if you turn the carrot while you shuck off thin ribbons. I grated a little fresh ginger with a cheese grater, and added it to the carrots along with half a lime’s worth of juice and a dollop of oil. The ginger is just snappy enough to catch the sour lime juice by surprise.
Apple Gruyere Panini and Ginger Lime Carrot Salad (no “panini press” method)
(makes 1 serving)
2 slices country bread (make a no-knead loaf yourself!)
3-4 slices Granny Smith apple
2-3 slices gruyere
1 small carrot
juice of half a lime
1 teaspoon olive oil
1/2 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
few parsley sprigs (optional)
Wash and peel the carrot. Holding the carrot over a bowl, continue to peel off thin strips, rotating the carrot, until you have whittled it down to a thin stick (eat the rest). Add the ginger, lime juice and oil and mix with fingers. Cover with plastic wrap and chill while you make the sandwich (the parsley will be added at the end).
Heat up a heavy-bottomed pan on one burner, and on another burner, heat up a small but heavy cast-iron pot that will fit on top of the sandwich in the other pan. Let both heat over a direct, high flame for 3-4 minutes. Place each slice of bread on the pan, and arrange the cheese on one piece and the apples on another. Cook for about 1 minute. Put the sandwich together, and (using mittens) place the small cast-iron pot on top of the sandwich, along with its lid for maximum weight. Let cook another minute or two. Remove the pot and check the bottom of the sandwich for done-ness. It should be crisp and toasty, but not burnt. Flip it over once, and place the pot on the sandwich again for another minute, if needed. Remove from pan, cut in half on a cutting board, and serve alongside the chilled carrot salad with optional parsley sprigs.
(for one serving)
2 slices homemade bread: $0.15
2-3 slices gruyere (at $16.99/lb): $0.85
3-4 slices Granny Smith apple (at $1.25/lb): $0.15
1 small carrot (at $1/lb): $0.20
1/2 lime (at 4/$1): $0.13
1/2 teaspoon grated ginger, 1 teaspoon olive oil: $0.10
3 sprigs parsley (from my new potted plant!): $0.05
Total: $1.63 (wow)
Four brownie points: Did you notice how this panini doesn’t have tons of oil or butter on the sides before it gets grilled? That’s because the oil and juiciness is seeping out from the inside of the crust already, so why bother? It might even run you the risk of sogginess. Given this, the only fat in this recipe is coming from the cheese (and 1 teaspoon of olive oil). There’s lots of Vitamin C and A from the apple and carrot, and unlike other cheesy dishes, the real satisfying thing about this one is the harmony of tanginess and melty creaminess, not just a huge overload of cheese, cheese, and more cheese.
Six maple leaves: It’s still winter, talking from a produce perspective, but there are summery applications for these tired foods yet. Carrots stand in for more delicate veggies when sliced into thin slivers and dressed, and apples find their way into light sandwiches. But there’s a few missteps here, of course — though the label produced by Murray’s Cheese boasts the Le Gruyere’s exceptional small-batch, family farm operated mentality, it is, after all, an imported Swiss cheese which had to cross the lake before getting to my plate. The lime, too, didn’t come from upstate. I gave myself an extra leaf for baking the bread on my own premises, and I’ll count a couple more for the fact that I didn’t buy as much kitchen equipment as one might think is needed.