Every now and then a sandwich just makes itself. Things fall into place as though the stars are aligned and all is right in this crazy, mayhem-riddled world of ours.
Well over a decade ago, when I was the chef at the [Ocean Pines] Yacht Club (my therapist is still working that one out with me), we would end more than a couple eventful evenings with a few drinks and some cheap grub. Working the ubiquitous 10-15 hour day, we rarely stopped to sit down, take a break or heaven forbid, actually eat something.
And when those long shifts came to an end, we would play with food and that is where I developed an amazing secret weapon that my buddy Joe and I ate on the sly for the last six months that I was a fixture at that fine establishment.
The sandwich was called the “Holy Toledo,” testament to the very words that came out of my mouth when I took a bite. A simple sandwich, it was a sundried tomato wrap filled with our homemade chicken salad with halved grapes and walnuts, fresh coleslaw and some sliced kosher spears. The sweet met with the savory, and the semi-crunchy walnuts humored the soft chicken in a way that made a carnival of flavors and textures that just about brought tears to my eyes.
OK, maybe that last part didn’t happen, but the Holy Toledo was the perfect way to end a ridiculous night of serving our esteemed members in the heat of summer; praying for the day that a new building would be built as one of our cooks had just fallen through the floorboards of the downstairs kitchen. Ah, the halcyon days of youth.
Recently, we went on a road trip to Cumberland, Maryland and I was introduced to Caporale’s Bakery, an Italian standard in C-Land for more than a century. Picking up some rolls and loaves for work, I was excited as the smells of freshly baked goods permeated the air. The loaves were huge, and had a gorgeous crust and the most delightful crumb.
For the four-hour drive home, the smells wafted from the back seat to the front, and it was a wonderful way to pass the time; well, that and the fact that I was in good company, so that always helps.
A few days later, we were in our Garde Manger class, and the students had made some sweet and hot Italian sausage. The product was beautiful, and the hot sausage was some of the best that I have sampled over the past six years in our program.
Wanting to capitalize on such a good sausage, I decided that it was time for another sandwich to fall out of the heavens and onto our plates; hence “The Mayhem” was born.
Using the thick-cut Caporale’s Italian bread, some of the homemade hot Italian sausage and a blend of cheeses that we have on hand, it was an amalgamation meant to feed a royal court. In fact, it was so rich, that most of us could only eat a quarter of the blasted thing. Yes, I believe it would have made the Caporales proud.
The beauty is that I don’t necessarily need to traipse back up to Western Maryland to buy fresh-baked breads. Knowing that I have heirloom hot-house tomatoes coming in fairly regularly, that there are bakeries down here such as Crack of Dawn and Baked Desserts, and freshly crafted sausage that I could make myself, have the students make or buy at J&M Meat Market, it makes for a pretty great day in the sandwich world.
All in all, it’s just another day in my world where the A.D.D. kicks in and I decide to do something a little out of the box. And the beauty is that this is just a grilled cheese, albeit one that reflects the mayhem in my mind.
And as you play with this recipe, remember that it’s your world, your sandwich and a reflection of what’s rolling through your noggin at any given time; and the food will simply make itself.
Makes 4 sandwiches
8 slices thick, fresh Italian bread
Duke’s mayonnaise, as needed
8 slices fresh heirloom tomato
6 Tbsp. Fresh pesto
4 ounces Shredded Cheddar cheese
8 ounces Fresh Mozzarella
4 ounces Gruyere cheese, sliced
8 small or 4 large Hot Italian
Sausage patties, cooked
- Instead of using butter on the outside of your grilled cheese, use mayonnaise. This adds a crispiness to your sandwich that you simply can’t get from butter (since butter is a form of water-oil emulsion, the bread can get soggy when using whole butter)
- Assemble sandwiches as you like, making sure to press the sandwiches so that nothing falls out during the cooking process
- Heat a flat top griddle or pan to a medium heat. If it’s too hot, you stand the chance of burning the outside of the sandwich before the inside has cooked and left you with that gooey cheesy deliciousness
- Cook the sandwiches on both sides, turning periodically to ensure even cooking, and again to prevent any burning of the bread
- When everything is hot throughout, remove from the flat top, halve and serve. Pay homage to the local baker, your local sausage maker and your local farmer. They are all beautiful people and your sandwich should reflect that!