Cheese. It's delicious. And with so many lovely varieties available these days, it never ceases to inspire me. Take a tangy gorgonzola, or a creamy goat cheese, or a nutty comte, or a sharp aged cheddar, and a host of savory (and sweet!) culinary options are before you. This past week I've had a huge hunk of Fontina cheese in the house, thanks to a local purveyor of fine cheese (surprised at where I bought it? You should really take a look at the selection there!)
If you've never had Fontina before, let me tell you about it: it's a semi-soft cow's milk cheese and is pale cream in color. Originally made in the Italian alps--specifically in Valle d'Aosta--it is now made in other regions as well. Depending on who made the cheese, its flavor can range from pungent (those alpine Italians) to delicate (most everyone else). The kind I see sold here in Santa Barbara is on the milder end of the flavor spectrum, and it might remind you of a non-smoked Gouda that hasn't been aged for too long.
Inspiration struck today as I was madly rushing around the kitchen, trying to assemble some form of a lunch. I grabbed a couple slices of sourdough bread, slathered on some Dijon mustard, layered slices of the delicious Fontina cheese, sprinkled on some pickles and peppers, and added some warm pastrami. Topped that with the second sourdough slice and plopped the sandwich onto a hot pan. Covered said pan with a lid. Then I waited. And waited. Peeked at the bottom bread. Not quite the toasty golden brown I was wanting. Covered again and waited....ah yes, now that's what I'm talking about. Flipped it over and toasted the other side, then ...plate, slice... Oh wait, I have to show you guys how beauteous it turned out to be:
Mmm, gotta bite into this goey goodness...yummm....
See how nice and melty the Fontina gets? I just love how the sliced pepperoncinis and sweet-and-sour pickles and onions sink into the melted cheese, and then how the Fontina gets all clingy and hangs over the layers of that great pastrami. Cheese and I hit some rocks in our relationship a few years ago, but we've reconciled beautifully lately and I couldn't be happier.
I think you will go nuts for this hot sandwich, and with the chilly weather we're having lately you will love having something warm for your next lunch! And the pickle recipe I'm including below is absolutely fantastic...these tasty homemade pickles are so easy!
2 slices sourdough bread
1-2 slices Fontina Cheese
1 large pepperoncini, well-drained and minced
3 sweet-and-sour pickles with onions, minced (see recipe below)
2-3 slices lean pastrami
Heat pastrami slices in a non-stick pan over medium heat. Meanwhile, spread a generous amount of Dijon mustard over each slice of sourdough. On one slice layer the Fontina, then the peppers, pickles, and onions. Fold the warm pastrami over, and top with the second slice of bread.
Place sandwich on hot pan and cover, toasting until the bread is nice and golden-brown. Flip sandwich and toast the second side, covered, until cheese is melted.
Adapted from Artisan Restaurant in Paso Robles, CA
Makes about 6 cups
2 1/2 pounds pickling cucumbers, cut crosswise into 1/8-inch-thick slices
1 onion, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons coarse kosher salt
2 cups white vinegar
1 cup sugar
1 2-inch piece fresh ginger, thinly sliced
1/2 teaspoon celery seeds
1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/4 teaspoon mustard seeds
Toss first 3 ingredients in large colander. Place in sink and let drain 2 hours. Rinse vegetables; drain. Transfer to kitchen towels. Gentle squeeze vegetables to dry. Place in 8-cup glass measuring cup or large bowl.
Bring vinegar and all remaining ingredients to boil in small saucepan, stirring to dissolve sugar. Reduce heat to medium and simmer 10 minutes. Pour vinegar mixture over pickle mixture, pressing on vegetables to submerge. Cool to room temperature. Cover and chill overnight. Can be made 1 week ahead. Keep pickles chilled.