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No doubt, everyone has their own version of the perfect grilled cheese sandwich – ham or no – but we have gained more than a few pounds perfecting this version. Since we are intending the sandwich to accompany the tomato bisque, we have not added other cool items we sometimes stuff in there- like slices of Granny Smith apple, slightly sautéed first, or grilled peaches in season, peach or tomato chutney… on and deliciously on…. heck, forget the ham and use good quality, thick sliced bacon and Bartlet pear… oh yea… uh huh… that’s what I’m talkin’ about… free yourself… go for it!

Wine Pairing: A high acid red such as Cantine Valpane Rosso Pietro Barbera del Monferrato (750ml – $14.99) seems like a perfect match for both the bisque and the sandwich. A Sauvignon Blanc such as Pascal Jolivet Sancerre (750ml – $24.99) or Neal Ellis’ South African Sincerely, (750ml – $16.99) would also accompany this duo nicely.

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Ingredients for Tomato Bisque:

  • 2 28-ounce cans whole tomatoes, drained of their juices
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 Tbsp light brown sugar
  • 4 carrots, peeled and chopped
  • 3 stalks celery, chopped
  • 2 shallots, chopped (or substitute sweet onion, such as Vidalia)
  • Salt and freshly cracked black pepper
  • 3 Tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1/2 tsp crushed red pepper
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 Tbsp tomato paste
  • 2 Tbsp dry sherry
  • 1 to 2 cups chicken stock (or vegetable)
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream

Ingredients for Grilled Cheese:

  • 2 Tbsp mayonnaise
  • 1 Tbsp coarse grain mustard
  • 4 slices sourdough bread, about 3/4-inch-thick
  • 6 oz country ham (use either breakfast slices or julienned center cuts)
  • 3 oz sharp cheddar cheese
  • 2 oz gruyere or Jarlsberg cheese
  • 2 Tbsp unsalted butter

Directions for Tomato Bisque:

  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
  2. In a mixing bowl, combine the drained whole tomatoes, olive oil, light brown sugar, carrots, celery and shallots – toss to coat.
  3. Season the vegetables with salt and pepper. Place the vegetables on a silicone or parchment-lined baking sheet and roast until caramelized, about 30 minutes.
  4. Heat a soup pot over medium heat.
  5. Add the butter and cook until foaming.
  6. Add the crushed red pepper and garlic and sauté for 1 minute.
  7. Add the tomato paste and cook for 1 to 2 minutes. Then add the sherry.
  8. Cook until all the liquid has evaporated and the alcohol has cooked off, 1 to 2 minutes.
  9. Add the roasted vegetables, crushed tomatoes and 1 cup chicken stock. Season with salt and pepper and bring to a simmer for 15 minutes.
  10. Add the heavy cream and, using an immersion blender, puree the soup until uniform in texture. If you don’t have an immersion blender, just (carefully- it’s HOT!) ladle ingredients into a food processor.
  11. Add more chicken stock to adjust the consistency to how you like it.
  12. Return to pan before adding cream and whisking by hand.
  13. Serve immediately.

Directions for Grilled Cheese:

  1. Combine mayonnaise with mustard and thyme in a small bowl.
  2. Grate both cheeses together and mix.
  3. Evenly spread mayonnaise mixture on 2 slices bread, then layer 1/2 cheese, then ham, then remaining cheese.
  4. Top with remaining bread slices.
  5. Butter outside of top bread slice.
  6. Preheat grill pan or 12-inch cast iron or nonstick skillet over medium-high heat and grill sandwiches – topside down first, turning once, (melt Tbsp butter, swirl around pan and flip sandwich over so bread and butter marry each other, until golden brown, about 4 minutes per side – but keep an eye and spatula on it…you don’t wanna burn it!
  7. Slice on the diagonal and serve alongside your bowl of tomato bisque.

This recipe is courtesy of Cool Springs Wines & Spirits staffer, Richard, and his dog, Bella.

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