Cheese is my thing. My jam. My go-to snack. My favorite food. Everybody knows this about me. There are very few cheeses I do not like on the spectrum of cheese, from your mild and milky mozzarella to runny, barnyard-y washed rinds that were aged in holy French caves by ancient nuns.
It is well-documented family lore from my childhood that I would demand stinky, sharp Italian table cheese upon entering my grandmother’s house every Sunday afternoon. Lately, I am all about melt-in-your-mouth burrata, a local ricotta by Lakin’s Gorges, and Ossau-Iraty, a Basque cheese only made in the summertime from the milk of sheep grazing in the mountains. I love layering various cheeses on a board with olives, apricots, bread, and spicy nuts. I love combining flavors and textures to achieve the perfect grilled cheese, that happiest, homiest of rainy-day comfort foods. I love all things melty. I love simple farmer’s cheese like Cotija, panela, and paneer.
I immediately started plotting a perfect Saturday afternoon lunch, something homey and comforting and relatively easy. The grilled cheese and tomato soup casserole I settled on, like all good ones, transcends the sum of its parts. It becomes warm and sort of custardy, both soft and toothsome, not too saucy or soupy, perfectly cheesy.
It is of the utmost importance to employ a hearty bread; anything else would dissolve into a puddle. I chose a sliced loaf of Italian, but a sourdough or even a rye would work beautifully. I elected to combine Sargento cheddar and Swiss for mellow sharpness, melt, and bite, all super important qualities in a grilled cheese. And the tomato sauce soup is totally awesome, I must say.
The result was nothing short of perfection. Even Violet liked it, who is in a very contrary 4-year-old food phase right now. My husband, liker of cheese and lover of sandwiches went back for seconds.
(Case in point: Most of what is being packaged and presented on the supermarket shelf as “American” cheese is a pretty horrifying hodgepodge of non-cheese ingredients, including hydrogenated oils and all sorts of other stuff I can barely pronounce. In fact, so-called “pasteurized processed cheese food” only needs to contain actual cheese, to still be labeled that way. And for Real Cheese People like us, actual cheese is bogus.
It tastes the way I remember cheese tasting from my childhood, when weekend lunches were made with ingredients from the neighborhood Italian grocer. I get super cheesy for those “choosy mom” moments, when everyone is happily fed, content, and uncomplaining. Go cheese! Go me!
- 6 slices Italian bread
- 2 tablespoons butter, divided
- 1/2 yellow onion, finely diced
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 1 bay leaf
- Pinch of nutmeg
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 1/4 cup heavy cream
- 1/2 cup whole milk
- 3 eggs
- 4 slices Sargento cheddar cheese
- 4 slices Sargento Swiss cheese
- 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
- Preheat oven to 325.
- Butter slices of bread on both sides and bake 4 minutes a side.
- In a medium pot over medium heat melt remaining butter and add onions and garlic. Cook 3 minutes, until translucent. Add bay leaf, nutmeg, salt, and pepper. Stir in tomato paste and reduce the heat. Cook 5 minutes, stirring. Slowly whisk in the milk and cream. Bring the sauce to a boil, then remove from the heat.
- Crack the eggs into a large mixing bowl. Ladle in some sauce and whisk to temper. Slowly pour this into the rest of the sauce, until well combined.
- In an 8 x 8 baking pan layer the bread and cheese. Pour sauce over and sprinkle with Parmesan.
- Bake for 30 minutes until golden brown and bubbly.
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