Few meals are more comforting than a classic grilled-cheese sandwich and a cup of soup on a rainy day. So, in honor of National Grilled Cheese Day, and just in time for a wet weekend, we’re passing on a few new takes on an old classic.

Yes, we know our food writer has declared that the last thing anyone needs is more National Food Days. “When every day is a holiday, what does a holiday mean?” Bethany Jean Clement wrote in 2017. “April 7 is also National Beer Day. People, this is the United States of America. Isn’t every day National Beer Day?”

Nevertheless, if any food deserves a national holiday, it could well be the versatile grilled cheese.

According to the National Day Calendar, which keeps track of these weighty matters, the pairing of bread and cheese is “an ancient food, enjoyed across the world in many cultures.”

The modern American version of the grilled-cheese sandwich originated in the 1920s when inexpensive sliced bread and American cheese became easily available. It was originally made as an open-faced sandwich. Since then, it has evolved into countless formats, with additions like meat, fruit and nuts, and cheese permutations galore.

Whatever your preferences, here are a couple of twists on the comfort classic that have been published in The Seattle Times over the years.

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GRILLED CHEESE WITH APPLE AND WALNUTS

Makes 1 serving

  • 2 slices bread
  • 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
  • 1 ounce cheddar cheese, sliced or shredded
  • ½ small apple, sliced
  • 1½ tablespoons chopped walnuts
  • 1 tablespoon butter

1. Spread the mustard on both slices of bread. Add cheese, apple and walnuts to one, and top with the other slice of bread.

2. Melt butter in a small skillet over medium heat. Cook the sandwich, turning once, until both sides are golden brown and the cheese has melted.

 

THE DIVA OF GRILLED CHEESE

Makes 1 sandwich

  • Leeks, scallions and/or shallots
  • 1 onion (any color)
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • ¼ pound cheddar cheese
  • 2 slices sturdy sourdough bread
  • Butter
  • Mayonnaise

1. Gather a group of shallots, leeks, scallions and an onion (red, yellow or white) — as many members of the allium family as you have on hand — and chop them into a small heap. Add a minced clove of garlic. Grate a few generous handfuls of the best cheddar you can afford, set a little aside, and gently combine the rest with the onion mixture.

2. Butter one side of thickly sliced bread and heap as much of the mixture as possible between the slices, butter side in. Spread a thin layer of mayonnaise on the outside of the bread (this will keep it from scorching on the griddle). Press the reserved grated cheese to the outside of the bread, where it will create a wonderfully crisp and shaggy crust, giving your sandwich an entirely new dimension.

3. Fry on a heated griddle or in a skillet about four minutes a side, until the cheese is softly melted.

 

A cheese sauce enriched with cream cheese and plenty of herbs boosts a croque-monsieur. (Michael Tercha / Chicago Tribune)
A cheese sauce enriched with cream cheese and plenty of herbs boosts a croque-monsieur. (Michael Tercha / Chicago Tribune)

HERBY CROQUE-MONSIEUR

Makes 4 servings

Note: The white sauce can be made a day or two in advance.

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Cheesy white sauce:

  • 1½ tablespoons each: butter, flour
  • ¾ cup skim or whole milk
  • ¼ cup reduced-fat cream cheese, softened
  • 2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh chives or scallion tops
  • 1/8 teaspoon each, finely chopped or dried: rosemary, thyme
  • 1/8 teaspoon each: salt, freshly ground pepper

Sandwiches:

  • 12 ounces Gruyère, Comté, fontina or Muenster cheese (rind removed)
  • 8 slices, each about ½-inch thick, hearty whole grain bread
  • 12 ounces thinly sliced, ham
  • 3 tablespoons butter, melted
  • Whole grain mustard
  • Small or sliced pickles

1. For the white sauce, put butter and flour into a small saucepan. Set over medium heat; stir until smooth and melted. Gradually whisk in milk until smooth. Cook, stirring constantly, until thickened, about two minutes. Remove from heat and stir in cream cheese, chives, herbs, salt and pepper. Let cool.

2. For the sandwiches, use the large holes on a four-sided box grater to shred the cheese. Lay the 8 slices of bread out on a work surface. Spread one side of each with about 1 tablespoon of the sauce. Top 4 of the slices each with a quarter of the shredded cheese. Top each with a quarter of the ham slices. Place a dressed slice of bread on top to make a sandwich. Smear the tops of the sandwiches with a little melted butter. Flip the whole sandwich and spread with more melted butter. Sandwiches can be assembled an hour or so in advance; cover tightly with plastic wrap.

3. Heat the oven to 200 degrees, and place a baking sheet in the oven. Heat a panini press or a large nonstick griddle over medium heat until hot. If not using a panini press, also heat a cast-iron skillet over medium until hot. (You’ll use the hot bottom to press the sandwich.)

4. Spray the hot cooking surface, and add the sandwiches, working in batches as needed to accommodate your equipment. If using the griddle, set the heated skillet on top of the sandwiches to compact them a bit. Cook until cheese is melty and bread is nicely golden and crisp, five to six minutes. Turn sandwiches so they cook evenly; if not using a panini press, flip them to crisp the other side. Transfer the sandwiches to the baking sheet in the hot oven until ready to serve.

5. To serve, cut the sandwiches in half. Put onto heated serving plates. Accompany with a small dish of whole grain mustard and the pickles.