Italy, Sandwiched: Mozzarella, Pesto, and Mortadella Grilled Cheese

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[Photographs: Vicky Wasik]

Each year when Kenji starts his annual Vegan Experience, I feel a pang of jealousy. Gosh, I think. Maybe I'd enjoy joining him on this month of vegan eating and recipe developing. And then I turn around and make a sandwich like this grilled cheese, packed with melted mozzarella, mortadella, anchovies, marinated artichokes, and pesto. It is an affront to all vegans everywhere.* Whoops.

* It also manages to violate the diets of vegetarians, the gluten-intolerant, and anyone who keeps kosher or halal. I'm clearly doing a smashing job at inclusivity here.

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Maybe I'm just not meant to be vegan. I can live with that, if the consolation prize is a griddled sandwich like this one. Between two thin slices of bread, I've managed to press together a representative from nearly every main food type—land animals, in the form of porky mortadella; dairy, in the form of cheese; vegetables via the artichokes and pesto; and even seafood, with the inclusion of savory anchovies.

Lots of folks would argue that this sandwich is technically a cheese melt, given all the additional fillings on top of the cheese. And they'd be right. But I still think of it as a basic grilled cheese, since, as far as the technique is concerned, it's really no different.

I mostly stick to the grilled cheese method we've advocated at Serious Eats ever since Adam Kuban first shared his recipe.

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It starts with thin slices of a dense white bread, like a country loaf. You don't want bread with big air holes in the crumb, or your filling may just seep right out. One of the defining characteristics of this grilled-cheese method is that the bread is toasted on both sides. Here, I toast it in olive oil instead of butter, since olive oil's flavor makes more sense with these Italian fillings.

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Now, generally, this method advocates toasting the bread on one side, then flipping the slices, adding the fillings, and finishing the sandwiches in the pan. If all goes well, the exterior of the bread is perfectly toasted at the same time that the cheese inside is fully melted. That's pretty easy to accomplish when it's a basic grilled cheese with sliced American, but my sandwiches are stuffed with more ingredients, and timing the exterior to brown as the interior melts is harder.

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The solution is to toast the individual bread slices on both sides first, then build the sandwiches and finish them in a preheated oven. It's a slightly more restaurant-y way of executing the process, but I think it yields more consistent results. You could pop the sandwiches in a toaster oven, too, which will heat faster than a full-size oven.

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As for the fillings? I start by spreading minced anchovy fillets all over half of the toasts, then layer on the mozzarella, pesto, thinly sliced marinated artichoke hearts, and mortadella before closing the sandwiches. All those extra ingredients are key, since the mozzarella itself is so mild. You get a whiff of pork, the salty punch of anchovies, herbal pesto, and tart marinated artichokes. The mozzarella is really there for its melted texture and clean, blank-canvas flavor. I recommend fresh mozzarella here—the kind that's packed in water, not in shrink wrap. It has a fresher, milkier flavor than low-moisture mozz.

I figure, if I'm going to live a non-vegan life by eating dairy, meat, and fish, I should at least go all out.

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