Good old grilled cheese is now nouveau

Just when you think there isn't a food that already has its own cookbook, you open your mail and get " Grilled Cheese Please! 50 Scrumptiously Cheesy Recipes ." This squarish little hardback, just published by Andrews McMeel ($16.99), is by San Franciscan Laura Werlin , who in fact wrote " Great Grilled Cheese " in 2004, and three other cheese books, including " The All American Cheese and Wine Book " that won a James Beard award.

She's back at it, she writes in the introduction, now that there are several restaurants and food trucks as well as blogs dedicated to grilled-cheese sandwiches -- all signs that "the new grilled cheese sandwich has arrived. And it's decidedly not our mother's version."

This book is full of good ideas, starting with her time-tested tips on making the best grilled cheeses, such as always grate the cheese.

She's got a chapter of a half-dozen sandwiches from grilled-cheese eateries such as the Jalapeno Popper from The American Grilled Cheese Kitchen in San Francisco, made with Monterey Jack and goat cheese, plus bacon and jalapeno (and dried apricot) relish. She's got a chapter of five "Regional American Grilled Cheese" sandwiches such as the Vermonter, made from cheddar and Shepherd (sheep's milk) cheese from the state that has the most sheep's-milk cheese producers in the country, along with some Vermont cheddar and goat cheese -- and maple syrup -- on walnut bread.

From Pizza Grilled Cheese to Spring Pea Pesto and Fontina and Alpine Grilled Cheese with Pickled Shallots and Watercress, these aren't processed-cheese-slices-on-Wonder bread creations. Though she does give a recipe for the "Ultimate Childhood Flashback" made with American cheese, mayonnaise, dill pickles and potato chips.

There's sure to be something that appeals to you, and just in time so you can properly celebrate April, which is, of course, National Grilled Cheese Month.

I couldn't wait to try this Spanish-influenced recipe. At first bite, I actually said to myself, "Now that's a grilled cheese."

THE SPANIARD

I substituted jarred piquillos, which worked great. Laura Werlin, author of "Grilled Cheese Please!," says you could use smoked paprika as I did, or use sweet, medium-hot or spicy paprika. I liked her idea of mixing the spice into the butter and plan to try that on some grilled-cheese creations of my own.

  • 2 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
  • 1/2 teaspoon pimenton de la Vera (Spanish paprika)
  • 8 slices sandwich-size Italian bread
  • 8 thin slices serrano ham (about 3 ounces; or use prosciutto)
  • 4 ounces young mahon cheese, coarsely grated (or use fontina or American Muenster)
  • 4 ounces manchego cheese, coarsely grated
  • 4 fresh piquillo chiles, stems removed, slit lengthwise and opened like a book

In a small bowl, mix the butter and pimenton together.

To assemble: Spread the pimenton-butter mixture on one side of each of the bread slices. Place 4 slices of bread, buttered side down, on your work surface. Place 2 slices of ham on the bread. Distribute the cheeses over the ham. Lay the chiles over the cheese and top with the remaining bread slices, buttered side up.

Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium heat for 2 minutes. Put the sandwiches into the pan, cover and cook for 3 to 4 minutes, until the undersides are golden brown. Remove the cover and turn the sandwiches, pressing each one firmly with a spatula to compress the filling slightly. Cover and cook for 2 to 3 minutes, until the undersides are well-browned. Turn the sandwiches once more, press firmly with the spatula again, cook for 1 minute, and remove from the pan. Let cool for 2 to 3 minutes. Cut in half and serve.

Makes 4 sandwiches.

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