Inspired By a Breadbasket: Smoky Grilled Cheese with Sopressata and Sage

On my family’s recent visit to New York we went to Scarpetta, Scott Conant’s amazing Italian restaurant in Manhattan’s Meatpacking District. I am generally not fashionable enough to spend any time in this area of the city, particularly at night when the velvet ropes come out, but this restaurant was quite welcoming.

I knew it was going to be a fabulous meal as soon as the waiter presented the bread basket. Among other tempting carbs was a house-made stromboli with salami and cheese folded inside. It was smoky and salty, with the taste of the salami permeating the bread. Amazing. As soon as Shiv and I began discussing variations on grilled cheese, I knew I had to riff on the Scarpetta breadbasket experience.

Of course, you could make your own bread, and stud it with salami, and then use that to make a totally awesome grilled cheese. Please do. And send one my way.

But if you don’t have time for that, do this: find some good sopressata. It’s best if you can get it freshly sliced from an Italian deli, rather than vacuum packed. I bought mine at Russo’s Mozzarella and Pasta near 1st ave in the East Village.

Get some focaccia and slice it in half lengthwise. Consider cutting out a bit of the bread’s center, so that the bread won’t overwhelm the filling. My focaccia was a bit too thick, and the ratio was imperfect. It turns out that ratios are quite important in the art of grilled cheese, possibly as important as the quality of your ingredients.

Grate some smoked gouda, enough so you can have a creamy, smoky blanket of cheese wrapping around both sides of your sopressata. Fry up some sage leaves into crispy chips (which works to preheat your pan, as well.) To build your sandwich, layer cheese, spicy sopressata, sage, and more cheese, then top with the bread lid and cook until melted and gooey.

Serve with something that is not smoked.

Smoky Grilled Cheese with Sopressata and Sage
makes two sandwiches

Foccacia bread, about 8×10″ square
1/4 to 1/3 lb smoked Gouda
splash olive oil
8-10 sage leaves
10 slices spicy sopressata or salami

Divide foccacia in two portions to make two sandwiches. Slice lengthwise in half, then, if the foccacia is thick, slice out some of the inside filling of the bread to make two 1/2″ to 3/4″ thick crusty pieces for the top and bottom of each sandwich. Grate gouda on a box grater.

Heat olive oil over medium in a large heavy pan. When oil is hot, add sage leaves and fry, turning occasionally, until they begin to darken. Remove and drain on paper towels. Turn pan down to low. Add the bottom slice of each foccacia sandwich, cover with grated gouda, then sopressata slices distributed evenly. It’s ok if they overlap a little. Top with sage leaves and the rest of the grated gouda, then the sandwich tops. Cover and cook over low heat five minutes. Turn carefully and continue to cook until both sides are crispy and cheese is melted.

In cheese, cheese sandwich, grilled cheese, sopressata

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