It's been interesting to find out some things over the past few weeks. Despite what my passport tells me and the fact that I dutifully pay taxes every single year, cry every time I see an ad for the USO, and think American literature is a. not dead and b. pretty damn good, some people don't consider me a "real" American.
After all, I vote Democrat. I live in a big, coastal city full of foreigners, celebrities, men who love men and women who love women, journalists, bankers, opinion makers, and the unemployed, working class, middle class, upper class, high class, rich, poor, black and white. I give money to charity, not just in the form of checks, but also in the form of dollar bills on the subway. I think health care should be a human right, not a privilege. I believe that abortion must be safe and legal and available and rare. And I don't care if you're Muslim, Christian, Jewish, Buddhist or if you don't believe in God at all. (And I mean that literally. I don't care. Stop talking about it on television, stop using it as a badge of honor, stop using it as a way of persecuting people who are good and moral no matter what they believe.)
The thing that truly sets me apart from "real" Americans is that I don't get grilled cheese.
Maybe it's because of my father (pretty suspect, too - with his liberal ways and Massachusetts address). He never made grilled cheese for me as a child, and it wasn't served at the school cafeteria (though I can distinctly remember a tuna fish sandwich so soupy with mayonnaise that it's the single reason I can't abide the stuff, crammed into a hot dog bun, for crying out loud), so by the time I got around to tasting it in college, I didn't quite get what the fuss was all about. (I think you kind of need to eat Velveeta as a kid to be inured to it as an adult, right?)
But I've always wanted to love grilled cheese. It seems like such a perfect little meal. Two pieces of nice bread, some good cheese, maybe a bowl of soup, and hey presto! You've got yourself a rocking Friday night dinner.
Well. Let's just say that after this weekend, I might be able to muscle my way, at least partly, into the real American crowd. I have found the grilled cheese of my dreams.
I suppose it's a little misleading to call it grilled cheese. Toasted might be more accurate, or broiled, or simply Warm Gruyere Sandwich with Mustard and Thyme. Mmmm, yes. Call it what you want, it's delicious.
It comes from this underrated cookbook and is barely any more work than making a traditional grilled cheese. You broil several bread slices just on one side, and then brush the unbroiled sides with a little bit of melted butter. On top of that, you spread some nice French mustard (what I'm using right now is Fallot). Then you drop a few thyme leaves on top of the mustard, grate a nice, thick flurry of Gruyere over the thyme and put the slices back under the broiler for a few moments longer. The edges of the bread will be browned and crunchy, the cheese will be molten and bubbly and chewy in spots, and you will not be able to keep yourself from eating just two pieces. I dare you.
I left the quantities up in the air, because bread sizes differ and you might love a big carpet of cheese while someone else might want something daintier. In any case, the combination of mustard, thyme, and Gruyere is simply wonderful, especially on sour-ish bread.
Warm Gruyere Sandwich with Mustard and Thyme
6 1/2-inch thick slices of levain or sourdough bread
Unsalted butter, melted
Good-quality French mustard
Fresh thyme leaves
Grated Gruyere cheese
Sea salt (optional)
1. Preheat the broiler. Place the bread slices on a baking sheet and toast one side under the broiler until golden brown. Remove from the oven and turn the slices over. Brush the melted butter on each untoasted side. Then spread with mustard and sprinkle with the thyme leaves. Sprinkle the cheese evenly over the bread. Sprinkle with salt, if desired.
2. Broil until the edges of the bread are golden brown and the cheese is melted, about 1 minute. Remove the bread slices from the oven and serve them immediately.