Mario Batali approaches his Italian-style grilled cheese less like a panini and more like a French-toast sandwich. Stick around to read this, and you'll soon make yours the same spectacularly delicious way.
As a guest on ABC's "The Chew," Batali enlightens the audience with a recipe inspired by the sandwich he ate as a child after long days of "tobogganing and winter merriment."
"My dear mamma would have a deliciously gooey grilled cheese sandwich waiting for me at every turn," he says. "But now, it's time to put a new spin on this cheesy classic, and I promise you'll never look at a grilled cheese the same way again."
What's so "ultimate" about Batali's grilled cheese? It's that he dips the sandwiches in an egg batter before he puts them in a hot pan, much like you would with French toast. The result is bread that's extra crispy on the outside and soft in the middle, and it makes for an even thicker and heartier grilled cheese. In Italian, he explains, it's called "mozzarella in carrozza," or a fried cheese sandwich.
Batali begins his sammies with good ol' sliced white bread, because, at the end of the day, it is an American dish.
He then gets started on his batter, which includes four eggs, plus three egg yolks and whole milk for added richness. He also whisks in Pecorino cheese and thyme. The cheese forms a fine crust on the bread, while the thyme "adds a beautiful herbalness that brings the cheese back to its pasteural birthplace," Mario explains. (No, those aren't real words, but a nostalgic chef can get away with that sort of thing.)
Once the pale yellow mixture is thoroughly whisked and flecked with beautifully green bits of thyme, it's time to dip. The bread has been layered with two kinds of cheese: Fontina and Mozzarella di Bufala.
"The trick again, as with all good Italian things, is not too much of anything," Batali explains, adding a touch of charred onion to the sandwiches.
"Gently, but with firm intensity," he presses the top layer of bread onto each sandwich. He dredges each one in the egg mixture before tenderly placing them in a hot pan coated with, of course, olive oil. He cooks them until golden brown, about two minutes on each side.
Most people would be ready to devour the sandwich then and there, but Batali isn't done yet: He adds onions to a saucepan with orange juice and sugar, making an onion marmalade to go with the sandwich. That seems to be a great call, as one of the guests exclaims, "This tastes like dipping a grilled cheese in onion soup!" Plating each sandwich with a dollop of marmalade, he sprinkles the dish with extra Parmigiano-Reggiano.
Behold, a delicately crispy yet pillowy soft dish that is both a sandwich and savory French toast, filled with oozing Italian cheeses and herbal wonder. You'd likely crave this after a day of tobogganing on a snow-covered hill, too -- or maybe just after a long day at the office.
Hungry? Watch the video and read the recipe here.