Once upon a time, Nate and I went to Napa for our second anniversary. We took the extra long scenic route home along Pacific Coast Highway and finally got to see Big Sur, 90 miles of some of the most beautiful coastline in the world. It's so remote, with winding roads, zero cell phone reception, and sweeping cliffs above a turquoise ocean. It felt so remote and spectacular I remember wondering why the roads through were even built. On our way through we stopped at Big Sur Bakery, the cutest little cafe that felt more like snow white and the seven dwarves' cottage than a cafe. We ordered a strawberry strudel, which was absolute perfection and grilled cheeses with tomato jam. It tasted like an adult version of the childhood classic, with thick crunchy slices of bread, gooey mozzarella, and thick tomato jam that tasted less like jam and more like chunky tomato sauce.
Back in the day I practically lived off grilled cheese. I don't know how, but for a span of about four years around college, I survived on a diet consisting mainly of bread and cheese. Not good. Now I eat them maybe once or twice a year, usually when I'm sick or having a really bad day. To me, grilled cheese is still the ultimate comfort food. I usually spice it up by adding whole grain dijon and a nice handful of baby spinach, maybe a thick slab of heirloom tomato. Totally adult, totally a justifiable dinner, am I right? So when I wasn't feeling good last week, and didn't feel like cooking but wanted something comforting and good I took a shot at re-creating the big sur grilled cheese.
They start by slow roasting cherry tomatoes until they are sweet, caramelized, and literally bursting with flavor. Because they cook low and slow most of the their juices evaporate, so there's no need to drain them. Pulse them a bit in the food processor then add that chunky goodness to grilled cheeses with a bit of fresh basil, fresh cracked salt and pepper and of course, a few slices of creamy avocado. It's hardly a recipe, and dares to be adapted with maybe some goat cheese or spinach. The bread almost demands real butter which I unapologetically used. The result, according to my husband, tastes like "tomato soup grilled cheese" in one perfectly messy sandwich. Perfect for watching the big game we're skipping out on because the beloved 49ers didn't make it this year. Perfect for snowy weekends where you just don't feel like cooking. And perfectly acceptable for grown adults.
Big Sur Grilled Cheeses with Slow-Roasted Cherry Tomato Jam
Makes two sandwiches
For the tomato jam:
20 oz cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large garlic clove, minced
1/2 teaspoon salt
fresh ground pepper
1 teaspoon cane sugar
For the sandwiches:
4 slices of bread, I used multigrain sourdough
4 oz mozzarella (one heaping cup), grated
tomato jam - recipe above
small handful of fresh basil
a pinch of salt + pepper
1 large avocado (optional)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a large baking sheet with parchment, top with tomatoes and toss with olive oil, garlic, salt & pepper. Cook for 1 hour. Remove from oven, let cool slightly, then add to a food processor or blender (I used my mini food processor), top with sugar and pulse, until chunky.
Heat a large skillet. Butter the bread, top with cheese, jam, basil, salt and pepper. Cook until brown and crispy flipping halfway through. Remove from skillet, open up the sandwich and slide in slices of avocado. Serve.
You will have leftover jam, enough to make 3-4 sandwiches. It keeps in an airtight container in the fridge for 7-10 days.
I know what you're thinking, sugar? As much as I hate adding extra sugar, the tomatoes are just way too acidic without it. You could try a sugar substitute and I almost did but hesitated for fear of ruining tomatoes so perfect.