Who doesn’t love a good grilled cheese? That’s a rhetorical question, since everyone loves a good grilled cheese (except you poor souls out there who are unfortunate enough to be lactose intolerant). This is a twist on the classic I came up with as a vegetarian option for a party, and I was surprised to discover it actually ended up outpacing all the meat options in terms of popularity with the guests. The lesson, as always, is good food speaks for itself, and any preconceptions should go right out the window.
3 T unsalted butter
8-10 shallots, peeled and thinly sliced
1 T capers, chopped
1 tsp piparras or pepperoncini, chopped
1 tsp white wine vinegar
1 T fresh chopped parsley
1/2 tsp honey
zest of 1 lemon
1 1/2 T extra virgin olive oil
1 bunch kale
10 oz fresh chevre (goat cheese)
8 slices pumpernickel or marble rye bread
salt and black pepper to taste
Heat 1 tablespoon of the butter in a saute pan over medium-low heat. You can also do this directly in your oven if it is cool enough. You’ll want it at a relatively low temperature – around 350ºF – to make these sandwiches so they don’t scorch before the cheese melts and the bread crisps up. Add the sliced shallots and season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring often, until the shallots are very soft and have turned a rich caramel color, about 30 minutes. If the shallots start to stick, add a small amount of water and scrape the brown bits off the bottom of the pan, stirring them in with the shallots. Once the shallots are done, remove from the heat and stir in the capers, peppers, vinegar, parsley, honey, lemon zest and half the olive oil. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Set aside.
While the shallots are cooking, massage the kale. Yes, you read that right. It’s a trick I learned from a cook/farmer friend (thanks Abra!), and you’ll never think about kale the same way again. First, remove the woody stems from the leaves. Use your hand to hold the leaves in a tight bundle and use a sharp knife to cut the leaves into thin strips (this is called a chiffonade). Place the kale in a large bowl. Season with salt and pepper and drizzle with the remaining olive oil. Rub the seasoned kale between your palms and scrunch it in your fists until all the leaves have taken on a dark, shiny and slightly damp appearance, about 2-3 minutes. What you’ve accomplished is breaking down some of the stiff cellulose in the leaves without cooking them, leaving you with tender yet fresh and bright-tasting kale. Set aside.
Melt half of the remaining butter in a pan large enough to hold four sandwiches. Divide the goat cheese among four slices of bread. Top the goat cheese with spoonfuls of shallot relish and then add a layer of massaged kale. Close up the sandwiches with the remaining slices of bread. Place the sandwiches in the pan, put the pan in your wood oven, and cook until the first side of the sandwich is browned and crispy, 3-4 minutes depending on the temp of your oven. Remove the sandwiches to a platter. Add the remaining butter to the pan and, once melted, flip over the sandwiches and put them back in the pan to toast the second side. When both sides are crispy and the cheese is nice and melty, remove from the oven and serve immediately with a cold beer.