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100 Greatest Dishes?

Bon Appetit has revamped its web site, the part separate from epicurious.com, which it shares with Gourmet magazine. One of BA‘s current features is its “Top 100 Dishes”. Of course, I scrolled through the list–who wouldn’t–but with increasing bemusement. Grilled Cheese? Main Dish Salads? Mac ‘n Cheese? Fruit Pies? These are the kinds of things featured on Top 100.

Ice cream, ok, I’m with them. Ice cream, even mediocre ice cream, really is one of the world’s greatest food achievements, a blend of simple, common ingredients engineered under what, up to the 20th century, was an improbable circumstance (freezing temperatures for food in a summer warm enough to enjoy them). There’s also a hint of the four medieval elements (earth-rock salt; air-whipped in; fire-all the hard work cranking, set against all the heat taken out of the liquid mixture; water-ice). And all with a hard-to-guess and sublime outcome. Even in vanilla. So–not a terribly original thought, but a philosophically and gastronomically accurate one, to call ice cream one of the Top 100 Dishes. Pretty much anywhere.

But many of the other dishes or categories are really mundane, even when they’re dressed up to mid-level restaurant and glam foodmag style, as both the grilled cheese sandwich (gouda, ham, gourmet European-style bread) and the mac and cheese (gruyere, English cheddar, AND brie, about 5 cups total, for only 1 lb pasta, broiled with bread crumb crust) are. The grilled cheese sandwich named “top 100” isn’t even the “ultimate grilled cheese sandwich,” (with fresh asiago or mozzarella and roasted peppers) listed further along the page in the related recipe links. Both Top 100 dishes are way too rich for their category, and they both seem like expensive versions of classics that still manage to be kind of bland.

Contrast that with something like the sandwich David Lebovitz described from one of his trips to London. He ate a stilton sandwich at the Neal’s Yard booth at Borough Market. The guy behind the counter grilled a wheel of stilton on a turning spit and scraped the pungent, melted outside of the cheese liberally onto slices of toasted Poilane-type bread as customers lined up. Picturesque, rustic, somewhat messy, with that lightning-y taste from the fire, as Remy of Ratatouille would say…and do I need to point out, stilton is not a bland choice in cheeses. If you’re going to eat grilled cheese, perhaps that’s the one you should try for?

Neal’s Yard cheeses are available in the U.S., fairly affordable for gourmet-rank cheese, and made with microbial (vegetarian) rennet. But the guy who rotisseries them will only come over stateside and make your sandwich for you if you treat him very, very nicely.

Until that windfall ticket to London appears, here are two of my (downmarket, toaster oven) favorites.

Toasted Eggplant and Gorgonzola (or stilton, or bleu, or even just feta):

  • Good sourdough or rough country bread with a good crust–toasted (obviously)
  • Eggplant–sliced and nuked 10 minutes and broiled or pan-grilled a few minutes. Preferably in tandem with a sliced red bell pepper and a little onion, and drizzled with olive oil. The eggplant can be hot or cold for this sandwich.
  • Gorgonzola or other strong, salty cheese as above, crumbled
  • Leaf or two of basil, shredded or whole, your call

Assemble all the ingredients any way that will be manageable as a sandwich, hold it over a plate, and take a huge bite. Have napkins handy (those of you in the UK, I mean serviettes, not nappies.)

Fried Egg Sandwich (no chilli, no chutney, sorry, this isn’t Red Dwarf)

  • Either really good sourdough/ciabatta/etc bread, toasted, or else a Greek-style pita or naan (also toasted)
  • Fried egg, once over medium, or just the whites if you don’t eat the yolk
  • marinated artichoke hearts (below)
  • Roma tomato, chopped
  • Feta or fresh mozzarella, optional, or else mandatory as a substitute for the egg.

This one’s extremely drippy, so if you wear good clothes while eating it, I can’t help you.

Marinated Artichoke Hearts

  • 12 oz bag (e.g., Trader Joe’s) frozen artichoke hearts
  • 1 lemon’s juice,
  • 1 clove grated/minced/mashed garlic
  • drizzle olive oil
  • 1/2 t. salt
  • a little thyme, if you have it

Put all the ingredients in a microwave container (~2.5 cup) with a lid on, and nuke 3-4 minutes, until the artichoke hearts are cooked through. Stir and keep them in the fridge. Cheaper than the jarred variety, and very good, although the garlic may turn aqua blue (but it’s cooked, so harmless bacteria-wise) from cooking with the lemon juice and perhaps some of the pigment from the artichokes. Store in the fridge and use for pizza, appetizers, omelets, etc.

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