T. S. Eliot famously wrote “April is the cruellest month.” I’m thinking he had no idea it was National Grilled Cheese Month, otherwise he might have written something very different. It is still cold here in Maine. There is still snow on the ground. Yesterday it was gray and rainy, a day just begging for comfort food, a day that demanded Grilled Cheese.
I decided to pull out all the stops. My friend, Brian, has been begging for matzo ball soup and I’ve been jonesing for an amazing Giada De Laurentiis recipe for a Spinach and Pancetta Grilled Cheese I saw her make on the Food Network a while ago.
When I thought of making matzo balls I remembered a show I saw on Sunday – again on the Food Network – called Meat and Potatoes. There was a segment featuring Chef Ilan Hall making Bacon Wrapped Matzo Balls. I knew then and there I would have to try them. This damp, dreary day was the perfect opportunity to indulge in a bite or two of wretched food excess.
I made my matzo balls as I always do – from a *gasp* mix. I’ll admit here, in front of God and food lovers everywhere, that I love Manischewitz Matzo Ball Mix, which I used for this latest endeavor. I’m not sure if they’d be happy to see their beloved product wrapped in pork, but I take full responsibility for my actions.
Light, tender floating matzo balls are only a couple of eggs, a little oil and 20 minutes away.
Tiny – 1 inch – matzo soldiers ready for duty.
Everybody in the pool!
When you put ‘em in hot water, balls get a whole lot bigger!
I always have frozen, home made chicken soup on hand, for culinary as well as medicinal purposes.
Half the balls go into the soup.
The others are blanketed in thin rounds of pancetta or wrapped lovingly in applewood smoked, nitrate free bacon.
I am not going to lie, these were as delicious as anything I’ve tasted in a long time.
Brian arrives with the makeshift panini press. Ever my faithful food-testing guinea pig, he works for food.
Give that guinea pig a cup of soup while he waits for the Grilled Cheese.
And now for Giada’s amazing Pancetta and Spinach Grilled Cheese Sandwiches. I cut her recipe for eight sandwiches in half. To start I took 4 oz of thinly sliced pancetta arranged on a greased baking sheet and cooked in a 400º oven, baking them until they were crispy, about 10 minutes.
Giada likes to crumble her slices, but I love the crisp little rounds just as they are.
Into the food processor I put a cup of grated Cabot Clothbound Cheddar (Seriously Sharp Cheddar would work equally well), a cup of Cabot Monterey Jack cheese, half a stick of Cabot Unsalted Butter at room temperture and a tablespoon of vegetable oil and gave it a good pulse or two until blended into a spreadable state. Giada adds salt to her mixture, but I find the cheese and the pancetta offer just the right amount of saltiness.
Next, I added a cup of chopped fresh baby spinach and processed until just incorporated.
I had a rosemary and olive oil boule which I sliced to about 1/2 an inch, and built my sammies with a thin, thin smear of butter on the outside.
Since I don’t have a panini press, or even a George Foreman grill, I wrapped Brian’s bricks in aluminum foil. And, since he had pulled them out of a snow bank and were still icy to the touch, I let them rest in a warm oven until we were ready to cook.
Brian and I had a cup of soup and tasted the Bacon & Pancetta Wrapped Matzo Balls, which were incredibly rich and delicious. The ones wrapped in pancetta were a bit lighter, due to how thin the slices were. Oy…heaven!
I cooked the sandwiches in a skillet under the bricks over a medium heat until they were golden, turned them and cooked the other side.
The nutty, sophisticated flavor of the Clothbound Cheddar was complimented by the creaminess of the Monterey Jack, and the spinach gave it an added earthy taste. The crispy pancetta was a perfect foil for the melted cheese and the hint of rosemary in the bread added a quiet but noticeable herbal note to the proceedings.
This sophisticated sandwich and unorthodox appetizer were the perfect components for my National Grilled Cheese Month celebration. L’chaim!