Sweet pears and smokey ham are the perfect combination in this sandwich from Food Network Top Chef judge Tom Colicchio, co-author of the cookbook 'wichcraft.
2/3 cup sugar
2/3 cup cider vinegar
1 piece star anise
1 tsp black peppercorns
2 whole cloves
Pinch of ground peperoncino or red pepper flakes
1/2 cinnamon stick
2 Bartlett pears, peeled, cored, and cut into 1/8" slices
8 slices sharp Vermont cheddar cheese
8 slices cranberry-pecan bread
8 slices smoked ham
1/3 cup spiced walnuts if cranberry-pecan bread isn’t available (optional)
Freshly ground black pepper
2 tsp Dijon mustard
While we use a delicious aged cheddar, this sandwich will be a success with other cheeses, too, as long as they have a big presence, such as a sharp Gouda (no subtle fontinas or mozzarellas); because the cheese is the star of the sandwich, it needs to stand up to the other flavours. Use just enough smoked ham to balance the cheese and poached pear. Use a very thin layer of mustard on the bread, right next to the cheese. The bread in this instance should be something nutty and fruity. The tartness of the dried cranberries in our bread is a great addition to the sandwich, so if you don’t have them in your bread, you could add them to the poaching liquid when you prepare the pears.
Step 1: In a saucepan, combine the sugar, vinegar, 2/3 cup water, star anise, peppercorns, cloves, peperoncino, and cinnamon stick, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 15 minutes.
Step 2: Add the pears, bring back to a simmer, and cook for 2-3 minutes, until tender. Remove from the heat and cool in the liquid. Unless used right away, transfer the pears and juices to a container. (Keeps in the refrigerator for 1-2 weeks.)
Step 3: Preheat a sandwich press according to the manufacturer’s specifications. Place 1 slice of cheese on each of 4 slices of bread. Top with the ham, followed by 4-6 slices of pear and the walnuts, if using. Season with pepper and top with the remaining cheese. Spread the mustard on the remaining slices of bread, close the sandwiches, and place in the sandwich press (no need to butter the press or the bread).
Step 4: Close the lid and apply slight pressure. Cook without disturbing for 5-8 minutes. Open the press and check for colour and temperature: the cheese should be melted and the bread golden. If the bread is sticking to the press, allow it to cook for a bit longer and it will unstick itself. If the press seems to generate more heat on the bottom, flip the sandwich halfway through to ensure even cooking (making sure the ridges in the bread line up). Once cooked, remove, cut into halves, and serve.
Reprinted with permission from 'wichcraft by Tom Colicchio and Sisha Ortúzar (2009 Random House Canada).