Picture an open-faced sandwich, the bread covered with a thick layer of something savory, topped with bubbling melted cheese. Not all that extraordinary, right? Now give it an adorable name like a “toastie” and suddenly you feel like a child eagerly awaiting a favorite meal.
For grown-ups, this is melted cheese elevated to a new level. A British toastie is a toasted sandwich, either closed (two slices of bread) or open-faced. With top and bottom slices, the sandwich is often browned in a toastie maker, which looks like a waffle iron or panini grill without the grids. When open-faced, all you need is a broiler.
In British author Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s cookbook, “River Cottage Veg,” the toastie rises to a gourmet rung. Toasted bread is covered with vegetables, such as sauteed leeks, chunks of roasted squash, and bitter greens and potatoes, and topped with cheese that melts all gooey or warms in clumps. The sandwich is dinner worthy, particularly when accompanied by a bowl of soup or leafy salad.
It goes without saying that the better the bread and the cheese, the better the sandwich. Choose a hearty, rustic round loaf (often called a boule), of sourdough or whole grain, and cut it into thick slices. The long crusty edge of the wide ovals gives the toastie a lovely all-around crispness. The cheese must be robust with good melting ability — a sharp cheddar, gruyere, raclette, or Reblochon — or add a blue or goat that will crumble in pockets on the toast.
What else goes on the bread is up to you. The topping can be strictly vegetarian, with a mound of sauteed greens, chunks of cooked squash, roots, or potato, or simply sliced tomato. Or it can be meaty, with a layer of thinly sliced salami, ham, or prosciutto, or bits of smoky diced sausage or bacon folded into a vegetable mixture.
For many, a toastie will strike a sentimental chord. Melted cheese sandwiches are often the first real food children learn to make for themselves; the little hands positioning a slice of cheese on top of bread and melting it in a toaster oven.
Other cuisines have similar open-faced sandwiches, including the French tartine, Italian bruschetta, and Danish smorrebrod. Fearnley-Whittingstall writes that bread is “a blank canvas waiting to be turned into something fine.” Having a fresh loaf on hand (or a few thick slices in the freezer) and cheese and veggies in the fridge make it possible to turn out tasty toasties for a snack or meal whenever the child in you desires.Lisa Zwirn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.