Cold weather doesn’t always mean a bowl of soup. Sometimes it means soup and a sandwich, and sometimes it just means a sandwich, as in a hot one, right out of the skillet, or oven — or even the George Foreman grill if you’ve got one.
All of which turns sandwich night into something special.
The key to building a great hot sandwich, besides buying the best, freshest meats, breads and cheeses, is to imagine all of the ingredients warm, and then think about how they might work together, and stay together.
Melted cheese is an obvious glue for a hot sandwich, but if you don’t want to use cheese, a smashed avocado is another option for helping keep other ingredients in place. A well-placed couple of leaves of Romaine between the bread and the main attraction can act as an anchor as well, if you stay small and don’t pile on too many things.
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Just remember, heat can sometimes meld flavors to the point of preventing you from distinguishing the taste of single ingredients, so I always go for the less-is-more philosophy when putting together a hot sandwich. We’re not building towering room-service multilayer clubs here.
A word about bread: I’ve purposely not used big, fluffy buns or thick slices in these recipes because I’d rather the sandwiches be about what’s inside than what’s holding them together.
That said, I’ve tried to match the different sandwiches with types of bread that coordinate best, and I’ve found that a lightly textured farm bread works great for most, except when a sauce is involved, as with the mozzarella and meatball sandwich. In that type of situation, something more substantial is required to prevent what I call the dreaded “sandwich sog.”
All of these sandwiches are crunchy and toasted in some way, because I think the crisp texture is what we all begin to miss this time of year when so many of our recipes favor braised things and have root vegetables. (Love them, but a crackly loaf of warm bread will win me over every time.)
Ellise Pierce is the Cowgirl Chef and author of “Cowgirl Chef: Texas Cooking With a French Accent” (Running Press, $25). www.cowgirlchef.com; @cowgirlchef.
Melted Swiss and mushroom sandwiches
Makes 2 sandwiches
2 to 4 tablespoons of olive oil
9 ounces mushrooms, sliced
Salt and pepper (to taste)
2 slices farm bread
1/2 cup grated Swiss cheese (divided)
1. Heat oven to broil.
2. Put the olive oil in the biggest skillet you have (you’ll need to work in batches so you don’t crowd the mushrooms, which will give you steamed rather than browned mushrooms).
3. Saute mushrooms in the olive oil, and salt and pepper them as you go, adding a few fresh thyme leaves to the skillet as you cook. Place the cooked mushrooms on a paper towel-lined plate. Repeat with the rest of the mushrooms.
4. Toast the bread in the broiler, then put the pieces of bread in a heatproof skillet or on a cookie sheet. Divide the mushrooms between them, then the cheese, and slide the bread into the oven until the cheese melts and is bubbly, about 3 to 5 minutes. Remove and serve immediately with a few more fresh thyme leaves on top.
Nutritional analysis per sandwich: 340 calories, 23 grams fat, 22 grams carbohydrates, 13 grams protein, 26 milligrams cholesterol, 313 milligrams sodium, 2 grams dietary fiber, 59 percent of calories from fat.
Makes 4 big burgers
1 pound ground turkey
3.5 ounces fresh spinach
1/2 cup oatmeal
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon cumin
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 tablespoon flavorless oil, such as canola or vegetable
8 slices bread (or 4 hamburger buns), toasted, for serving
1. Put all of the ingredients except the bread and oil in the food processor and pulse until combined. Make a very small patty and cook it in the skillet with a little bit of oil. Adjust seasonings if necessary and repeat if needed.
2. Form the four patties and place them in a hot skillet with 1 tablespoon of oil over medium-high heat. Cook on both sides until done, about 5 to 10 minutes. Let rest 5 minutes before serving.
Nutritional analysis per burger: 389 calories, 17 grams fat, 3 grams carbohydrates, 28 grams protein, 143 milligrams cholesterol, 510 milligrams sodium, 3 grams dietary fiber, 40 percent of calories from fat.
Cast-iron skillet chorizo and cheddar panini
Makes 1 sandwich
1/4 cup grated cheddar cheese
2 slices farm bread
3 ounces spicy Spanish chorizo, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon butter
1. Put half of the grated cheddar on one side of one of the bread slices, then add the chorizo and the rest of the cheese. By dividing the cheese and putting the chorizo in the middle, the cheese will act as glue, and stick to both the chorizo and the bread.
2. Put the butter in a cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat, and when it’s hot and the butter has melted, carefully add the sandwich. Put another cast-iron skillet on top of the sandwich and press it down, as you would panini. This will help the sandwich cook faster and more evenly and have a great crispy crust. When it’s browned on one side, flip it over, again using the second cast-iron skillet to weigh the sandwich down. When cooked, remove from the skillet and cut on the diagonal.
Nutritional analysis per sandwich: 770 calories, 56 grams fat, 33 grams carbohydrates, 33 grams protein, 136 milligrams cholesterol, 1,680 milligrams sodium, 1 gram dietary fiber, 66 percent of calories from fat.
Mozzarella and meatball sandwich
1 baguette, sliced and divided in half
1/4 cup tomato sauce, recipe follows
16 to 20 meatballs, recipe follows
2 ounces mozzarella (can be whole or grated)
Flat-leaf parsley, optional, for garnish
1. Heat oven to broil. Put the slices of baguette on a cookie sheet and toast them into the oven until they’re nice and brown. Take the tops off of the cookie sheet and set them aside.
2. Spoon 1 tablespoon of tomato sauce on the bottom of each baguette slice. Add meatballs and another tablespoon of sauce. Now add the cheese. Slide back under the broiler until the cheese melts. Sprinkle a little chopped fresh parsley on top if you’d like, then top with the other half of the baguette and serve.
Nutritional analysis per sandwich: 997 calories, 32 grams fat, 126 grams carbohydrates, 49 grams protein, 175 milligrams cholesterol, 1,964 milligrams sodium, 8 grams dietary fiber, 29 percent of calories from fat.
Makes 4 to 5 dozen
▪ 2 slices stale bread
▪ 1 pound ground turkey, beef, pork or a mixture
▪ 2 eggs
▪ A small handful flat-leaf parsley, chopped
▪ 1 cup Pecorino Romano cheese, grated
▪ 2 cloves garlic, minced
▪ 1 teaspoon oregano
▪ 1 teaspoon sea salt
▪ 1/4 teaspoon pepper
▪ 2 tablespoons olive oil
1. Soak bread in a bowl filled with water for a couple of minutes. Squeeze out the water and add the bread to the ground turkey, along with the rest of the ingredients except the olive oil, mixing well with your hands. Using a small spoon, make as many meatballs as you can and set them aside, on a cookie sheet or waxed paper, until you’re ready to cook them up.
2. Drizzle 1 tablespoon of olive oil (you’ll probably need the other tablespoon as you cook the meatballs) into the largest skillet that you can find, add the meatballs, and turn the heat to low. Let the meatballs brown, and turn them once, and maybe one more time on the sides, to cook them through. This should take 10 to 15 minutes. (You’ll need to work in batches.) Set the meatballs aside, on paper towels, to cool.
Cowgirl tip: Freeze the meatballs you don’t use for sandwiches later, or for spaghetti and meatballs.
Italian-style tomato sauce
Makes 4 to 5 cups
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 small white onion, 1/4-inch dice
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes
1 (6-ounce) can tomato paste
1 tablespoon honey
2 teaspoons oregano
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon cracked pepper
1. Put the olive oil in a medium saucepan, add the onions and garlic, and turn the heat to medium. Cook until onions start to become translucent, about 5 to 10 minutes.
2. Add the rest of the ingredients, stir a bit, and let cook for an hour, uncovered.
3. Remove the bay leaves.
Cowgirl tip: I like to freeze whatever sauce I don’t use for the sandwiches, so I can make more at another time.