Spending time in Paris is probably the best thing I can do done to ensure that I will never be vegan because I fall deeply in love with cheese, every time.
There was that one period of time during which I was in Paris by myself and ate what I wanted, as cheaply as I wanted—which meant a lot of cafe-croissant breakfasts and dinners spent outside with bakery-fresh baguettes, vibrant cote de boeuf tomatoes and chunks of sharp Comte cheese. That was about the time I truly fell in love with bread + tomatoes + cheese.
In Portland, I fell in love with a different permutation at Gabagool, an Italian street food truck (and one of the many stops on our culinary tour). In my vegetarian sandwich, the baguette was swapped for piadina (a tortilla-like Italian flatbread), firm Comte for fresh, hand-pulled mozzarella cheese, and fresh tomatoes for tiny, wrinkly roasted tomatoes with incredibly concentrated bursts of flavor. It was an utter epiphany of freshness and flavor and a perfect reminder that food doesn’t need to be complicated to be outrageously delicious.
And so I’m coming back to the simplest roots for this grilled sandwich, my entry to Emmi USA’s Grilled Cheese recipe contest. The only thing I would have changed about that Gabagool sandwich is the cheese–fresh, slightly bland mozzarella has its time and place, but a melty, flavorful cheese would have been my first choice. In this sandwich, I did just that: a round of homemade piadina filled with slow-roasted tomatoes, soft, golden garlic and fresh basil bound together by a melting pile of some of the best cheese I’ve ever tasted.
The Emmi team kindly sent me two types of cheese along with a gorgeous indoor grill to help me create this sandwich. It’s not even close to a stretch to say that they’ve changed my perspective on gruyere forever. I grew up eating bland orange hunks from Costco, but theirs—aged in Swiss caves for months and made from the freshest organic milk—is worlds away. The tangy, delicious cheese melts beautifully and and pairs like a dream with just a few highlights of tomatoes, basil and garlic.
In a recipe this simple, each ingredient has to pull its own weight. Let me tell you: this cheese is hauling some serious weight.
This recipe takes some time since it takes 3 hours to roast the tomatoes + an hour to rest the piadina dough, but the actual hands-on time is very minimal. I know it sounds crazy to turn on your oven for three hours during the summer, but as Deb says, it really doesn’t heat up your apartment significantly at such a low heat.
I made my piadinas with half spelt flour, half all-purpose flour, but you can make more authentic, pliable ones with all-purpose flour. If you don’t have the time or patience to spend time making them fresh, you can buy piadinas in some stores, or you can substitute freshly made flour tortillas (easily found at any local Mexican bakery).
By posting this recipe I am entering a recipe contest sponsored by Emmi USA and am eligible to win prizes associated with the contest. All opinions are my own.
- For the roasted tomatoes and garlic:
- 1 pint cherry tomatoes
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 6-8 fat garlic cloves, unpeeled
- For the piadina:
- 4 oz (or a scant cup) all-purpose flour
- 4 oz (or a scant cup) spelt flour (or additional all-purpose flour)
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1.5 teaspoons baking powder
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 6 tablespoons water + more as needed
- For assembling:
- Emmi Kaltbach aged gruyere cheese
- Fresh basil, chopped finely
For the roasted tomatoes:
Preheat oven to 225 degrees F. Slice tomatoes in half. Add tomatoes and garlic to a non-reactive (read: non-aluminum) baking dish or a baking sheet lined with parchment. Drizzle with olive oil, salt and pepper. Bake for 3 hours.
For the piadina:
Mix together flour, salt, and baking powder in a bowl, then stir in oil and water. Knead dough for several minutes, until smooth. (If you are using all all-purpose flour, this may take up to 10 minutes. If you are using half spelt flour, you can knead it for slightly less time and it doesn't have to be perfectly smooth).
Cover dough in plastic wrap and let rest at room temperature for an hour. (The dough can also be prepared ahead of time and refrigerated for several days).
Lightly flour a surface for rolling and roll out the dough until as thin as you like (it should be quite thin, about a 1/4 to 1/10 of an inch (it will puff up slightly as it cooks).
Cut out circles of your desired size--I used a 6-inch cake pan as a template and ran a knife around the edge.
Make sure you have the rest of your ingredients ready before you start cooking the piadina! Heat a frying pan over medium-high heat. Once hot, add the circle of dough and let cook for 30-60 seconds, or until brown spots start to form on the bottom. Prick the piadina all over with a fork to help the middle cook, then flip and cook for another 30 seconds. Immediately assemble your grilled cheese while the piadina is still warm.
Peel the roasted garlic and smear a few cloves on a piadina. Add a few slices of gruyere cheese, a generous handful of roasted tomatoes and some basil on top. Grill over medium heat until cheese is melted. Eat immediately.