Pickled Pear and Irish Cheddar Toasties in a Bread Basket

Little grilled cheese and pickled pear snadwiches stuffed inside a hollowed out bread loaf on a green plateLittle toastie sandwiches, filled with melting Irish Cheddar and piquant pickled pears, are (adorably) presented right in their own hollowed out bread loaf. This recipe makes 2 pints of sweet and tangy pickled pears perfumed with caraway and bay. You won’t need that much for the toasties, so you’ll have pickled pears in your fridge for a month, if they last that long! Enjoy them with cheeses and charcuterie, in salads and sandwiches, or as a tasty snack.

Makes 8 toasties; serves 4 (because everyone will want 2!)

Caraway Pickled Pears
2 medium ripe or slightly underripe Bosc pears
1¼ cups apple cider vinegar
1 cup water
6 tablespoons honey
2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 teaspoons caraway seeds
2 bay leaves

For the Toasties
1 unsliced loaf of hearty whole-grain sandwich bread (AKA a “Pullman” loaf)
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
7 ounces Irish cheddar cheese, sliced and at room temperature
16 slices Caraway Pickled Pears

To make the pickled pears: Halve and core the pears, and slice each one lengthwise into 1/8-inch-thick slices. Pack the slices into 2 wide-mouth, pint-size glass canning jars, or other heatproof container(s). Bring the vinegar, water, honey, salt, caraway seeds, and bay leaves to a boil over medium-high heat in a small saucepan, stirring until the honey and salt are dissolved. Boil for about 2 minutes. Pour the hot brine into the jars, completely covering the pears. Cover the jars with lids and set aside to allow the brine to cool to room temperature as it pickles the pears. When completely cooled, use right away or refrigerate the pickled pears for up to 1 month.

To make the toasties: First preheat the broiler.

loaf of bread on a cutting board with the crust and top intact, but the middle removed in a blockUsing a bread knife, saw off the top crust of the bread, just where it begins to dome (if it is a flattop loaf, then just saw off about ½ inch of the top crust); set the top aside. Now cut out the inside of the bread in one giant rectangle, so that you will basically have a crustless smaller loaf within the outer shell of crust. Here’s how to do that: Saw around the perimeter of the bread parallel to the long and short edges of the loaf, leaving about a ½-inch border on all edges and without cutting all the way through the bottom crust. Now cut a slit through one of the long edges of the crust that runs parallel to the bottom crust, about 1/2-inch from the bottom of the loaf, leaving about a ½-inch border on either end of the loaf so as not to completely slice off the bottom crust; this will free the inside bread rectangle, leaving a long slit toward the bottom of the bread bowl (but that won’t matter, it’s a secret!). Carefully remove the now crustless interior rectangle of bread and cut it into 16 slices.

Arrange the slices in a single layer on a large, rimmed baking sheet and brush the top sides with butter. Place them under the broiler, about 4 inches from the top heating element, until nicely toasted. Flip and toast the slices on the other side. Remove them from the oven, and now preheat the oven to 400˚F.

Top 8 of the toasted bread slices with a slice of cheese and then 2 slices of pickled pear. Place the other 8 bread slices on top, creating 8 little toastie sandwiches. Stuff the toasties back into the hollowed out bread “basket.” You will likely only be able to fit about 6 of them inside, so set the other 2 aside for now. Replace the top of the bread. Wrap the entire loaf in a sheet of aluminum foil and place it on the center oven rack. Bake until the cheese is melted, 30 to 40 minutes. Place the remaining 2 toasties on a small baking pan and heat them in the oven a few minutes before the big loaf is done, just until the cheese is melted.

To serve, place the bread basket and extra toasties on a large platter, and enjoy while the cheese is hot and melty!

Shaved Ham and Pear Sandwich with Brie Cheese

Ham and Pear Sandwich with Brie smSQ

After a long winter of baking, soup-making, and braising, picnic season has finally arrived! We headed out to the gorgeous Hood River Valley last weekend to enjoy the nice spring weather and I created this delightful ham, pear, and brie sandwich to take along and celebrate the occasion.

Based on the traditional French sandwich of shaved ham, butter, and soft cheese, my version has added firm-ripe pear slices and a thin layer of honey mustard for texture and sweetness. Wrap the sandwiches in butcher or parchment paper and take them packing or slice them into smaller lengths to serve as an appetizer at your next gathering.

We enjoyed these sandwiches on the sunny patio of a winery in Lyle, Washington overlooking the Columbia River. The next morning, we drove from Hood River to Portland via Highway 35, where we saw thousands of pear trees in blossom. A perfect spring weekend!

Ingredients
Your favorite crusty baguette
1 tablespoon salted butter at room temperature
2 tablespoons honey mustard
½ pound of good quality ham, shaved
2 firm-ripe USA Pears, such as Anjou, thinly sliced
½ pound Brie cheese (or any double cream, soft cheese), cut into ¼ inch slices

Directions
Cut the baguette horizontally with a serrated knife into a top and bottom piece. Hollow out most of the soft center from the top of the baguette to make room for the filling. Spread the butter into a very thin layer on the bottom slice of the baguette and top with the honey mustard. Pile the shaved ham loosely on top of the mustard in an even layer. Next, top the ham with the pear slices, allowing them to overlap all the way down the length of the baguette. Lastly, place the cheese slices all along the top of the baguette to fill the hollow you have created, pressing down gently so that they will stay in place. Carefully place the top of the baguette onto the bottom, and slice the sandwich into four or more sections with your serrated knife. Enjoy immediately or wrap in paper and take the sandwiches on the road.

prep time: 15 minutes
yield: 4 or more servings