There’s nothing quite as comforting to me as a grilled cheese sandwich and a bowl of soup. It’s perfect for warming up after an afternoon of sledding, making you feel better when you’re sick on the couch, or calming your nerves the night before your wedding while you obsessively watch the Weather Channel hoping that the approaching Nor’Easter will magically disappear from the Doppler screen.
The Nor’Easter didn’t disappear, and I managed to get married without incident. But I’ve kept with me the memories, not only of a great wedding and 60-mile-per-hour winds, but also of that yummy grilled cheese sandwich and the reassuring feeling of my fingers around a warm soup bowl.
Since the weather’s been cruelly cold over the past few days, grilled cheese sandwiches and soup were in order for a frigid Friday night this week. But with some friends coming over, I decided that slapping American cheese on a couple slices of potato bread, cracking open a can of condensed soup, and calling it a day just wouldn’t do. Some fancying up was in order.
The result? Grilled ciabatta bread filled with ooey, gooey gruyere and slices of uncured ham, pears, and onions, plus a Crock Pot filled with butternut squash and apple soup. (I also made wilted collard greens, but I thought they sucked, so I’ll just pretend they never happened).
Aside from being cozy and delish, this meal is one that can be prepared almost entirely in advance. If you make the soup the day before, you can warm it on the stove when you’re ready to eat. You can also slice all of the sandwich components ahead of time, and even soften the pear and onion slices, too.
Butternut squash and apple soup
One butternut squash
Four cups vegetable broth
Nutmeg, salt, and pepper to taste
Peel the butternut squash and cut it up into one-inch cubes.
Peel the apples and cube those, too.
Put the apples and squash on a cookie sheet, toss with a couple tablespoons of olive oil, a heavy pinch of salt, and about a tablespoon of brown sugar.
Roast in a 400 degree oven, stirring every 10 minutes, until everything is soft, about 30-35 minutes.
Transfer the squash and apples into a soup or stock pot and add about 4 cups of vegetable broth (You can make it a little richer with a splash of half and half, but it’s totally optional).
Add about 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon of nutmeg, depending how much you like.
Using a food processor or immersion blender, blend the squash mixture until smooth. Add more broth, if you’d like your soup a little thinner.
(If you aren't in the mood for grilled cheese, try this soup with some homemade garlic bread).
Grilled gruyere sandwiches with pear, onion, and ham
About one pound block of gruyere cheese
Eight slices of deli ham (I like uncured), each cut in half
Ciabatta bread, cut into 16 half-inch slices
One stick of very soft butter
Using a mandolin* or your crazy knife skilz, slice the gruyere cheese into 1/8-inch slices.
Slice the peeled onion and cored pears into 1/4 –inch slices.
Spread the onion and pear slices in an even layer on a cookie sheet and roast in a 400 degree oven until they’re softened, 10-15 minutes.
Let the onions and pears cool on a plate in the fridge while you prep the bread slices by smearing one side of every slice with butter.
Assemble the sandwiches on the unbuttered side of the bread with a layer of cheese, two half-slices of ham, 3-4 pear slices, a few onions, and a little more cheese (if you have enough); top with another slice of bread. Butter should be facing out on both sides of the sandwich.
Grill on an electric griddle set to 300 degrees or on a frying pan on a medium-high stove. Adjust the heat as needed to ensure that the bread doesn’t brown before the cheese is melted. When one side is golden-brown, flip and repeat on the other side.
Serve the soup and sandwiches with a warm fleece blanket on the couch.
* I’m not usually one to demand the use of fancy kitchen gadgets, but a mandolin makes it much easier to slice everything thinly and evenly.