Thursday, July 15, 2010

fig and balsamic onion pressed sandwiches

fig and balsamic onion pressed sandwiches
so remember that focaccia?
the one that was good, but maybe
just a little flat?
i found a great, if not indulgent,
use for it: pressed sandwiches.

even though i sent a few squares
home with jenn, it was quickly
evident that i should have given
her more. we were only two
people, what were we going to
do with that much bread?

i was driving to work when
grilled cheese popped into my head.
very quickly, other ideas came
tumbling out: the mission figs that
were already in the fridge (or
should it be the nectarines that
were sitting on the counter?), the
maidenhead i bought from our first
monmouth county farmer's market
(or maybe instead the gorgonzola that was
nearing its final days?) and red onions
(definitely red onions).

as the day went on,
i wavered: should i put the nectarines
in the sandwich and add wedges of figs
to arugula for a side salad? would the
blue be too much? should i add arugula
to the sandwich? nuts? would the onions
be better cooked first? is it a mistake
making grilled cheese with a thick bread
like focaccia? could i just stop my brain
for five seconds? who in the world
spends this much time thinking
about a sandwich that is going to serve
two people after work on a weeknight?

finally, i turned to my office mate and asked,
would you rather have figs in a sandwich
and nectarines in a salad or
nectarines in a sandwich and
figs in a salad?
she took me seriously (i think) and said,
figs in a sandwich.
that was it - i would obsess no more.

when i got home,
i immediately diced an onion and tossed
the pieces into a pan with leaves of rosemary.
as they softened, i opted for the maidenhead,
a local semi-soft cheese, washed with
flying fish beer. the flavor was much stronger -
and dare i say, stranger - than i had remembered
from the farmer's market: kind of smoky -
but clearly it was not smoked - somewhat grassy
and pretty pungent. but, it was now or never,
so i grated the wedge down to fine shreds,
hoping that the tiny pieces would
encourage melting when they were layered
between two thick slices of bread.
i cut the focaccia into squares,
halved both horizontally and set the
bottoms on a plate.
by then, the onions were brown -
i tossed in a splash of wine
and a couple tablespoons of balsamic vinegar.
as they cooked down to something
slightly syrupy, i turned to the figs:
purple, plump and first of the season.
as i sliced them thinly, i realized how
many coins i could get from just one small
fruit. so, i cut three and placed the rest
back in the fridge.
and that was pretty much it.
yes, i had to assemble them.
it went something like this:
balsamic glazed onions on bread
sliced early season figs
cheese on sandwiches
panini, unpressed
and then, yes, i had to cook them,
which was not even slightly an
oh-n0thing-to-it moment. you see,
even this thin focaccia is still focaccia
and it's a pretty fat bread as grilled
cheese sandwich bread goes. as soon
as i placed it in the skillet - i do not
have a panini press - i knew they were
not going to cook well in their natural
state. after quickly scouring the kitchen
for something to weigh them
down with, i finally opted for the one
thing easily available: my hands.
panini in pan
makeshift press
i will admit, the pan and bread
were not very hot (yet) and i do have
fingers that can handle quite an
unnatural bit of heat. so, i pressed
hard and took a deep breathe before
the first peak. and - they were flat!
when the bottom was a beautiful
golden brown, i flipped the squares,
replaced the foil and put my hands
back on top of the sandwiches. i
persevered, but i'm not going to lie -
they were much hotter this time.
(i will take this space as the first
opportunity to say that i am in
no way recommending this method.
i will tell you again, below, in
the recipe, not to use your hands.)

when i was sure they were
sufficiently squished, i ran into
a flurry, tossing wild arugula into
a bowl, thinly slicing nectarine wedges
and tossing them, along with some
toasted hazelnuts, in with the greens.
the salad went onto a plate and a minute
later, was neighbored by fig and onion
grilled cheese, expertly (ha!) pressed
and just waiting to prove that it
was a sandwich worth obsessing over.

(good news: it was.)
fig and balsamic onion pressed sandwiches
i think this recipe almost qualifies as a non recipe. it seems silly to give you one, but in the end, we really enjoyed these sandwiches and i wanted to tell you about them. i urge you to look at the directions, below, as a guideline. not crazy about a cheese with funk (even though the maidenhead mellowed considerably when melded with the other ingredients)? use mozzarella, italian fontina or a mix. think you would love blue? add a few sprinkles on top of the fillings before cooking. wish i used that nectarine? go for it. not crazy about rosemary? that's fine - use thyme, a little sage or nothing at all.

oh, and there's this again: i don't have a panini press and even though i spent many years at a magazine telling people to just use a brick placed over foil, i don't own a brick. so, i did something that worked perfectly, but that i can never in good faith recommend: i used my hands and my body weight to great result. however, i have to admit, that the process was rather warm and probably, bordering on dangerous.

1 1/2 teaspoons olive oil
1/2 large red onion, peeled and chopped
1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary leaves
1 splash white wine (i'm sure red would be good, too)
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
5-6 ounces semi-soft cheese, like cherry grove farm's maidenhead
2 sandwich-size squares focaccia, halved horizontally
2-3 large mission figs, top and bottoms trimmed and thinly sliced

in medium skillet over medium heat, warm olive oil 1 minute. add onions; sprinkle with kosher salt and stir in rosemary. cook 15 minutes, or until slightly softened and golden, stirring often. (if they start to brown too quickly, turn the heat down to medium-low.) add splash of wine to skillet; add balsamic vinegar. turn heat to medium-high; cook 2-3 minutes, or until the liquid has been reduced, stirring occasionally. remove from heat; let cool slightly.

meanwhile, using small holes on box grater, grate cheese; set aside.

place bread bottoms on clean flat surface. divide onion mixture evenly over bread bottoms. top with fig slices. divide shredded cheese over figs, pressing to adhere. add focaccia tops; press slightly.

in large skillet coated with cooking spray (don't yell) or olive oil spray, over medium to medium-low heat (depending on how hot your stovetop runs), carefully place sandwiches. top with foil and brick or whatever other very safe method you choose to use to weigh them down. cook 3-5 minutes, or until golden brown on the bottom, pressed and the filling is starting to meld together, checking to make sure the bread does not burn. flip sandwiches; press again and cook 3-5 minutes more, or until golden, pressed and cheese is melted. transfer to cutting board; halve. of course, if you have a panini press, you're lucky - use that instead.


Caviar and Codfish said...

Oh, what fun: A recipe where I can use the exact same Cherry Grove farm cheese as you recommend! Yay for a local food blog!

I'm a funky-cheese girl, and like the maidenhead (though it's actually quite tame for me!) I imagine it goes great with fig.

brooke said...

c&c: i know, i always see recipes that use local ingredients that are not local to me and feel sad, so i debated here. but, it's great to know that the cheese applies to at least one person. also - i love really flavorful cheeses, too - this one was just very different than i remembered from the market. hope you enjoy the sandwich!