Holy Moley it’s been a busy week and so international – with Chinese New Year, Burn’s Night and now today January 26th it’s Australia Day, we have lots to celebrate from around the world every day of the week.
Happy Australia Day!
Last year we made Anzac cookies using Australian chef Curtis Stone’s recipe. This year I thought today was a good day to get to know Curtis a little better in his own words over an Outdoor Grilled Grilled Cheese Sandwich with Nectarine Chutney that he contributed to MADE IN AMERICA. [Perfect sandwich to share whilst watching a football match too! Which I believe is what a lot of you are up to most Sundays between now and the 5th February]
Grilled cheese cooked outside on the grill seems so obvious and I thank my friend, Curtis, for introducing me to it. He invites me over to show me how it’s done. When I arrive he’s in the kitchen laughing at viral videos on his iPad and we share our favorites. He takes me on a tour of his new home in Los Angeles which is undergoing some construction before he moves in, and then we head into the backyard to make an outdoor grilled cheese sandwich together.
Preparing the sandwich takes Curtis no time and he makes it all look super easy, partly because everything has been beautifully prepared but mostly because he is in his element—cooking outside. The hardest part is slicing the ciabatta to get two long, thin, even, pieces of bread. “I feel that a sandwich shouldn’t be about the bread but what goes in it,” says Curtis, “so cut the bread thin.” He then rubs the bread liberally with garlic before piling on the cheese, chutney and arugula and sliding it into his outdoor pizza oven.
When I ask Curtis for the yield of his recipe he admits to already having eaten one before I arrived. “Serves four regular people or one as a mid-afternoon snack if you are Curtis!” I joke. If you don’t have access to an outdoor oven, gas grill or a charcoal grill and you are indoors, use a panini press or bake in an indoor oven or under the broiler. “You can even use a griddle pan on the stove and put a brick on top!” says Curtis.
The sandwich comes out of the oven sizzling and oozing melted cheese. Stone picks up a slice and bites into it—long strings of cheese stretching from his mouth to the sandwich.
LL: How long have you lived in Los Angeles?
Curtis: I’ve lived here for 5 years, moving about from Pasadena, West Hollywood, Santa Monica and now the Hollywood Hills. The eucalyptus trees remind me of home [Melbourne, Australia]. It’s a special part of the world, ’cause there are not many big cities where you can live right on the coast or live in a spot where you feel like the country and still be 10 minutes away from the center of the action.
LL: Where do you like to surf?
Curtis: I surf at Malibu more than anywhere else; it’s easy for me to get to and it’s a nice slow wave. The older I get the worse my surfing becomes. So I’m down there with all the old fat blokes! Now I’m going to be beaten up in the water for that comment!
LL: I’m surprised to learn you’ve never been fishing locally. Want to come fishing with chefs for Go Fish LA next time?
Curtis: Take me! I love fishing and that would be an awesome day out! I’d bloody love to!
LL: How does getting in touch with where your food comes from change the way you cook it?
Curtis: It changes it massively. If you can get your hands on good local natural produce—whether it’s fish, meat, seafood, vegetables, fruit—you have a respect for it and you can make that connection. It might be that you go to a farmers’ market or that you visit the farm or catch a fish or meet the fishmonger. You develop that respect and this translates to showing off the ingredient for what it is—not complicating it. One thing that we do is we take a life every time we cook an animal and it should be a complete celebration of that animal’s life, a real show of respect for how you prepare it and eat it.
LL: What’s your favorite farmers’ market here in LA?
Curtis: Probably Santa Monica and I think half the reason of that is that all the chefs hang out down there. So we all go down and get a coffee and shoot the shit with each other. I love the atmosphere in fresh markets. We don’t get to film at farmers’ markets as much as I want because we have to stick to certain days and it doesn’t coincide with those days.
LL: So today I want to talk about grilling and then your take on grilled cheese.
Curtis: I love grilling. We are lucky enough to live down here in the sunshine so I’m outside a lot when I cook. Grilling’s such a great way to cook because there’s less cleaning up, it’s really healthy, I think it’s a really social way to cook as well ’cause you can sort of do your preparation ahead of time and then when people arrive you can be standing around and cooking at the barbie but still having a beer or a glass of wine and chatting to your friends. It’s a very casual way of eating too and I think that being casual and relaxed is a really nice way to entertain. I’ve written a cookbook actually called Relaxed Cooking with Curtis Stone: Recipes to Put You in My Favorite Mood. It’s all about the entire cooking process. There’s a salad in there that cooks some shrimp and you could easily do that on the barbie.
LL: Any unexpected items other than a grilled cheese sandwich you like to throw on the barbie?
Curtis: You can do everything; I’ve even grilled nectarines on the BBQ and then drizzled a little bit of local honey on the top and served it with some fresh yogurt. It’s a beautiful start to the day [grilling breakfast—who knew?!]. There’s grilled pineapple with a coconut caramel sauce in my book, so you can do desserts like that. You know, if you are gonna serve an appetizer, especially if you’re grilling, you could caramelize some peaches and then serve it with some prosciutto or some figs with prosciutto and some nice balsamic vinegar and some wild arugula.
Anything that you can cook in a pan you can pretty much cook on a grill and if you can’t—say you’re cooking a delicate piece of fish—then you can basically take a pan out, turn the grill up on full and sit the pan on top of the grill. So you can still cook it all outside.
LL: What’s the biggest mistake people make with grilling?
Curtis: I think they don’t get prepared well enough before they start. It’s one of those things, once you start you can’t stop. I sound like a snack commercial! Once you’ve put something onto the grill you’ve started that process and then if you look around and think “Shit, I forgot the salt,” you’ve got to run inside and by the time you get back out it’s like “Oh, a cloth or a platter to put the food on.” So I think the best way to do it is to get yourself a little bit of a system and say “OK, what do I need when I’m out there? I need the meat I’m going to cook. I need the olive oil. I need some salt and pepper. I need the dry rub that I’m going to put on it. I need the plate that’s going to take my meat out and then I need a plate when I take it off to put it on and I need the condiments.” So you need to make yourself up like a tray to take outside, take everything out and make sure you’ve got everything in place.
The other thing that people don’t do is they don’t pre-heat their grill well enough. Really super important that your grill’s red hot before you put anything on it.
My dad burns everything that he grills. EVERYTHING! It doesn’t matter how much you say it, it doesn’t matter how much he’s got a chef as a son, he burns everything he does.
And lastly, let the meat rest—for about half the time that it’s taken to cook it
Outdoor Grilled Cheese Sandwich with Nectarine Chutney
Curtis Stone [Los Angeles, California] for MADE IN AMERICA
The perfect mix of outdoor cooking and America’s favorite—the grilled cheese sandwich – supersized for sharing in celebration of Australia Day.
1 ciabatta loaf (about 12 inches long by 4 1/2 inches wide)
extra virgin olive oil, for brushing
1 large garlic clove, cut in half
4 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 cup nectarine chutney (recipe follows)
8 ounces Buckaroo cheese (Cowgirl Creamery), rind trimmed, sliced 1/8 inch thin
4 ounces Red Hawk cheese (Cowgirl Creamery), rind trimmed, sliced 1/8 inch thin
2 cups baby arugula
salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 teaspoons canola oil
1 teaspoon yellow mustard seeds
1 small white onion, finely diced
2/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup white wine vinegar
1 teaspoon finely chopped peeled fresh ginger
1/4 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes
4 firm but ripe nectarines (about 1 1/2 pounds total), pitted, cut into about 1-inch pieces
1/2 teaspoon salt
1. Heat the outdoor oven or grill to medium to high heat.
2. Using a large serrated knife, trim 1/8 of an inch off the top and bottom of the ciabatta. Then cut the ciabatta horizontally in half. So you have two long slices of bread about ½ inch thick.
3. Brush the top and bottom of the ciabatta with olive oil, season lightly with salt and pepper and rub with the garlic clove. Place the ciabatta slices, oiled sides down, on the grill and cook until just barely golden brown, rotating but not turning over to toast evenly, about 3 minutes.
4. Remove the ciabatta from the grill and reduce the heat to low. Spread one toasted side of the ciabatta with mustard and spoon chutney over the other.
5. Over the mustard place the Buckaroo and Red Hawk cheeses. Scatter the arugula on top of the cheese and cover with the top half of the ciabatta, chutney side down, and press firmly to hold the sandwich together. Lightly brush the top of the sandwich with oil.
6. Place the sandwich, oiled side down, in the oven or on the grill over the burner on low heat and close the hood.
7. Cook until the cheese melts and the bread is golden brown, rotating the sandwich as needed to brown evenly, about 8 minutes per side.
8. Transfer the sandwich to a cutting board. Using a serrated knife cut the sandwich into 8 pieces and serve immediately.
To make the chutney
1. Heat the oil in heavy large saucepan over medium heat. Add the mustard seeds and sauté until they begin to pop, about 30 seconds.
2. Add the onion and sauté until tender and translucent, about 4 minutes.
3. Stir in the sugar, vinegar, ginger, and pepper flakes. Simmer until the sugar dissolves.
4. Add the nectarines and cook until the nectarines are tender but still hold their shape and the syrup thickens slightly, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes. Stir in the salt.
Makes 3 cups
Chef Curtis Stone’s Tips
“Rubbing the bread with garlic is important. What you don’t want are pieces of garlic on the bread because they will burn, you just want the flavor.”
“The chutney should stay good in the refrigerator for up to week”