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Recipes: Grilled cheese upgrades (just add veggies)

Better bread and interesting fillings make a beloved lunch counter staple into something special.

Broccoli alfredo and provolone grilled cheese sandwich (top and bottom); rosemary-mushroom and gruyere grilled cheese sandwich (middle).
PHOTO BY ANTHONY TIEULI; FOOD STYLING BY SHEILA JARNES/ENNIS INC.
Broccoli alfredo and provolone grilled cheese sandwich (top and bottom); rosemary-mushroom and gruyere grilled cheese sandwich (middle).

Even when made with workhorse sandwich bread and cheese of little or no distinction, crisp toasted bread and hot melted cheese is a combo that’s hard to resist. Upgraded bread and cheese with well-chosen embellishments transform a mundane grilled cheese into a first-rate treat. These recipes call on simple sauteed veggies — mushrooms, fennel, and broccoli — to add panache as well as fiber and nutrients.

Rosemary-Mushroom and Gruyere Grilled Cheese Sandwich

Makes 2 sandwiches

3tablespoons salted butter, softened
2teaspoons finely chopped fresh rosemary
6ounces cremini mushrooms, cleaned, trimmed, and sliced (about 3 cups)
Salt
1teaspoon pressed or grated garlic (about 2 medium cloves)
4slices hearty French, Italian, Pullman, or high-quality white sandwich bread, pain au levain, or multigrain bread, about 1/2-inch thick
1cup coarsely grated gruyere cheese

In a small bowl, mash 2 tablespoons of the butter with 1 teaspoon of the rosemary and set aside.

In a large nonstick or cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat, heat the remaining 1 tablespoon butter until melted. Add the mushrooms and ¼ teaspoon salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until mushrooms are dry and lightly browned, about 8 minutes. Add the garlic and remaining rosemary and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 40 seconds. Scrape the mushrooms into a bowl (you should have about ¾ cup) and set aside. Wipe out the skillet, scraping to dislodge any stuck solids, if necessary.

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Spread two slices of the bread on one side with 1½ teaspoons each of the rosemary butter and place them on the work surface, buttered sides down. Sprinkle each slice with about ¼ cup grated gruyere, top with half the mushroom mixture, and sprinkle another ¼ cup grated gruyere over the mushrooms. Spread each of the remaining two slices of bread on one side with 1½ teaspoons of the remaining rosemary butter and place them on the sandwiches, buttered sides up.

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Set the skillet over medium-low heat and allow it to heat for a minute. Cook the sandwiches until golden brown and crisp, about 3 to 5 minutes on each side, and serve at once.

Honeyed Fennel and Fontina Grilled Cheese Sandwich

Makes 2 sandwiches

1tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
11/2cups trimmed fennel bulb, cut into 1/2-inch dice (about 6 ounces or half a large bulb)
Salt
2teaspoons herbes de Provence, rubbed with your fingertips to break up large pieces
2teaspoons honey
4slices hearty French, Italian, Pullman, or high-quality white sandwich bread or pain au levain, about 1/2-inch thick
2tablespoons salted butter, softened
1cup coarsely grated fontina cheese

In a large nonstick or cast-iron skillet over medium heat, heat oil until shimmering. Add the fennel and ¼ teaspoon salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until tender-crisp and light gold, about 6 to 8 minutes. Add the herbes de Provence and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 1 minute longer. Add the honey and cook, stirring, to distribute, about 30 seconds longer. Adjust seasoning with additional salt, if necessary, scrape mixture into a bowl (you should have about ¾ cup), and set aside. Wipe out the skillet, scraping to dislodge any stuck solids, if necessary.

Spread two slices of the bread on one side with 1½ teaspoons each of the butter and place them on the work surface, buttered sides down. Sprinkle each slice with about ¼ cup grated fontina, top each with half the fennel, and sprinkle another ¼ cup grated fontina over the vegetables on each. Spread each of the remaining two slices of bread on one side with 1½ teaspoons of the remaining butter and place them on the sandwiches, buttered sides up.

Set the skillet over medium-low heat and allow it to heat for a minute. Cook the sandwiches until golden brown and crisp, about 3 to 5 minutes on each side, and serve at once.

TIP: SPEED THE MELT

Covering the skillet traps heat and aids melting.
ANTHONY TIEULI
Covering the skillet traps heat and aids melting.

Broccoli Alfredo and Provolone Grilled Cheese Sandwich

Makes 2 sandwiches

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Between the reduced chicken broth and Parmesan, the mixture has enough salt that you may not want to add extra. A little black pepper is nice, though. Full-fat cream cheese works best here. The broccoli and Alfredo “sauce” makes these sandwiches a bit drippy.

This idea comes from Melt: 100 Amazing Adventures in Grilled Cheese, by Shane (Sanford) Kearns.

1tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
2teaspoons pressed or grated garlic (about 4 medium cloves)
1/4teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/2cup low-sodium chicken broth
11/2cups very small (about 3/4-inch) broccoli florets (about 31/2 ounces)
2tablespoons cream cheese, cut into small pieces, at room temperature
1/3cup finely grated Parmesan
Ground black pepper and salt, if necessary
4slices hearty French, Italian, Pullman, or high-quality white sandwich bread or pain au levain, about 1/2-inch thick
2tablespoons salted butter, softened
1cup coarsely grated provolone cheese

In a large nonstick or cast-iron skillet over medium heat, mix the oil, garlic, and red pepper flakes and cook, stirring, until fragrant and just beginning to sizzle, about 1½ minutes. Add the broth, adjust the heat to medium-high, and bring to a simmer. Simmer, stirring, until reduced by half, about 2½ minutes longer. Add the broccoli, cover, and cook until liquid has almost completely evaporated and broccoli is tender but not mushy, about 2½ minutes longer. Do not overcook. Off heat, add the cream cheese and stir to melt, mashing lumps. Add the Parmesan and ground black pepper to taste and stir to mix. Adjust seasoning with additional black pepper and salt, if necessary; scrape into a bowl (you should have about ¾ cup) and set aside. Wipe out the skillet, scraping to dislodge any stuck solids, if necessary.

Spread two slices of the bread on one side with 1½ teaspoons each of the butter and place them on the work surface, buttered sides down. Sprinkle each slice with about ¼ cup grated provolone, top each with half the vegetable mixture, and sprinkle another ¼ cup grated provolone over the vegetables on each. Spread each of the remaining two slices of bread on one side with 1½ teaspoons of the remaining butter and place them on the sandwiches, buttered sides up.

Set the skillet over medium-low heat and allow it to heat for a minute. Cook the sandwiches until golden brown and crisp, about 3 to 5 minutes on each side, and serve at once.

Adam Ried appears regularly on “America’s Test Kitchen.” Send comments to cooking@globe.com. Follow us on Twitter @BostonGlobeMag.