Did you know that in Catalan, bikini means grilled cheese sandwich? Does that seem like a kick in the pants or what? This isn’t just any grilled cheese sandwich, either, because it uses fresh mozzarella, cremini mushrooms and sun-dried tomatoes packed in olive oil–not exactly Kraft slices and Wonderbread.
Perhaps I should back up first, though, and explain my sudden appreciation/curiosity/annoyance at the Catalan language.
This lesson was brought to you via Ferran Adrià’s 2005 cookbook Cocinar en Casa, the fruits of the collaboration between him and Caprabo, a major Spanish grocery store chain. Dedicated to helping everyday home cooks create simple, delicious meals from (mostly) fresh food, it’s certainly a far cry from the fanciful concoctions he and his brother work on at their restaurant El Bulli, but it’s a solid cookbook even for us non Spaniards, and for us who care about these things it shines a light onto what the arguably best chef in the world considers to be everyday Spanish supermarket staples.
I hinted a few months ago that this book appeared on our doorstep as a birthday gift from Michael, but I didn’t crack it open and flip through it properly until a couple of weeks ago—why, I’m honestly not sure. But now that I’ve given it a good read (i.e. rough translation), I have to say that it’s more than just a novelty tome for die-hard foodies to buy when they go to El Bulli, because it celebrates simple and fresh food that should propel us to test it out in our kitchens, rather than have us rely on packaged dinners or takeaway to do the work for us. Sure, there are some mentions of foams that hold no appeal for me, and he uses convenience items like roasted chicken, but there are no seasoning packets here, no meal kits with pre-portioned out components; just staples that seem readily available and don’t appear to take more than 20 or 30 minutes to make, start to finish.
I made this as a sort of appetizer for Michael and I on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. I was off, so I offered to take over the kitchen duties provided that I could choose the menu myself. He knew that this would include pasta, but this first dish was going to serve as a bit of a surprise for him—a way for us both to kick back and relax and ruminate over a proper first course and extend the peaceful hum of this rare three-day weekend.
I decided to go open-face because I couldn’t find bread that I liked to turn it into a bunch of mini-sandwiches, but making one for dinner on either a particularly low-key night or for a hearty lunch is definitely on my to-do list. Serve with a nice Temperanillo, or a glass of your favorite beer and pair with a comfy couch and a good book or television show.
Adapted from Cocinar en Casa and Food & Wine Magazine
- ½ of a baguette, sliced lengthwise (for open-face appetizers) or four slices of thick sandwich bread
- ¼ pound fresh mozzarella, grated or sliced, depending on the bread (I used more because I wanted to finish up a ball of cheese from the weekend and I figured grating it would be easier to position on the narrow loaf, but ¼ lb should be more than enough)
- ½ cup of good, oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes (and reserve the oil!!! I forgot to and I immediately regretted it!)
- 5-6 cremini mushrooms, sliced
- Kosher salt and pepper
For the open-faced appetizers: Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Add cheese to bread, layer on the sun-dried tomatoes, then layer on the mushrooms. Dribble the reserved oil on top of the mushrooms and season with salt and pepper. Place on a baking sheet lined with foil and bake until the cheese is melted and the mushrooms have given up some of their water. Cut into smaller squares and serve.
For the sandwiches: Preheat a flat griddle (either over the stove or using an electric one). Layer the cheese, tomatoes and mushrooms as above and dribble the reserved oil between two slices for the two sandwiches. Add the second slice for each, and brush the outside of each sandwich with olive oil. Transfer the sandwiches to the griddle, and cook until the cheese has melted and both sides are golden brown. Slice each sandwich in half and serve.