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Grilled Cheese Napoletana

A grilled cheese sandwich featuring black olives and anchovies, plus tomatoes and basil in a supporting role.

Writing about grilled cheese sandwiches is a tense situation for me. On one hand I can’t fathom how some recipe bloggers think that two slices of Wonder bread, a Kraft single, and chicken doused in Frank’s hot sauce–a buffalo chicken sandwich, right?!?–constitutes a worthwhile post. On the other, grilled cheese was the first turn-the-stove-on dish I learned to make on my own. This grilled cheese napoletana with anchovies and black olives is perfect for those, like me, who count salty, briny food as their favourite indulgence.

The argument from both sides of the debate focusing on the health risks of dietary sodium seems to be: “those scoundrels on the other side are cherry-picking evidence.” That’s roughly what Gary Taubes wrote in his New York Times piece last month called “Salt, We Misjudged You” that was skeptical of sodium-restricted diets and also what his critics wrote in their letters to the editor. Because I’m not a trained dietary researcher and haven’t done any of my own research–or read very much of anyone else’s for that matter–I try to stay away from drawing conclusions about the long-term health impact of food. That said, my amateur opinion is that salt falls behind refined sugars, a lack of dietary fibre, and saturated and trans fats on the list of dietary health risks. Japan has a per person, daily salt consumption (11 g) that is twice what Health Canada thinks the upper limit should be (about 5.7g) and still the Japanese manage to have one of the highest average lifespans among industrialised countries.

Black olives and anchovy fillets provide up-front and briny salt but that needs to be balanced by something. I continued the Napoletana association by using a big handful of fresh basil and a heaping tablespoon of tomato sauce. As tomatoes come into season slices of Roma or slivered cherry tomatoes would worked just as well.

Grilled Cheese Napoletana

Good-quality anchovy fillets and salt-cured black olives combine with sweet-tart tomatoes and basil to make Grilled Cheese Napoletana.

Yield: one sandwich

  • 2 anchovy fillets, roughly torn
  • 5 or so salt-cured (the shriveled ones) black olives with their pits squeezed out
  • 1 TB basic tomato sauce or enough tomato slices, or slivered cherry tomatoes to cover one slice of bread
  • a handful basil leaves
  • 50 g mid-range mozzarella, shredded
  • 2 slices seedy, whole-grain bread
  • 1 knob unsalted butter
  • Set a cast iron pan over medium heat. Drop in a knob of butter to melt while you assemble the sandwich.
  • Mix the anchovies, olives and grated cheese together. Cover one slice of bread with the tomato and top that with basil. Cover the other with the cheese mixture and carefully bring together into a sandwich.
  • The rest of the way we’re following the same process as in the Grilled Cheese for a Hangover recipe. To summarise: put the sandwich in the pan and press it down with a lid. Leave it covered and after three or four minutes check that the bottom slice has browned and flip. Press again and leave .
  • After about three or four minutes check to see how well browned the bottom piece of bread is and if you’re satisfied flip the sandwich. Repeat the process with the lid and continue to cook for another three minutes or so.

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