I made Ina Garten’s grilled cheese recipe to see if it could deliver on taste and nostalgia.
With Dijon mustard and three cheeses, the flavors were robust.
Plus, the gooey cheese took me back to childhood lunchtime.
In an effort to curb a craving for bread, dairy, and nostalgia, I tried Ina Garten’s recipe for an adult-approved grilled cheese.
The Barefoot Contessa is synonymous with delicious, cozy, comforting, and mostly user-friendly recipes. So when I saw that she had one for something called the “ultimate grilled cheese,” I was eager to try it out.
Garten’s recipe is precise and even calls for brand-specific ingredients, including Cabot Extra Sharp Cheddar. I followed it closely for the full experience of how the queen of home cooking would make it.
Her recipe calls for 10 ingredients total, including salt and pepper.
To make this adult-approved grilled cheese sandwich, you’ll need the following ingredients:
Freshly grated parmesan cheese
Freshly ground black pepper
Either white pullman loaf or sourdough bread
Aged Gruyère or Comté cheese
Extra-sharp cheddar cheese
You’ll also need a cheese grater of some sort, and a wire rack is recommended for cooking the bacon (though, I didn’t have the latter).
The first step in conquering this sandwich was cooking the bacon.
The recipe says to roast the bacon on a wire rack over a baking sheet in a 400-degree oven.
I didn’t have a wire rack, so I used a trick I learned through experimentation, which keeps bacon moist as it cooks in the oven: a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
Since I wanted more of a meaty texture rather than an ultra-crunchy one for this sandwich, I pulled out the bacon once it turned visibly brown in most places and the thin ends started to curl. I’d recommend keeping a watchful eye on the bacon as the transition can happen quickly depending on your oven.
Making the cheese and mustard spread was next on my recipe to-do list.
In following Garten’s instructions closely, I grated my Parmigiano-Reggiano and then combined it with the mayo, Dijon mustard, salt, and pepper in a bowl.
I stuck to the ratios the cooking goddess listed (equal parts Dijon and cheese, with four times the amount of mayo) with the exception of the Dijon mustard — I’m a huge fan of this flavor profile so I added an extra teaspoon after tasting the mixture. This way, more of the tart and spicy flavor comes through in the finished sandwich.
Then it was time to tackle the other two cheeses on the ingredient list.
While the chef says to use a food processor fitted with a large grating blade, that’s just another tool I don’t have in my small apartment kitchen. Instead, I used a box grater which I thought worked perfectly, even though it requires a bit more energy.
Once everything was prepped, I started to assemble my sandwich.
I chose to use sourdough bread for this sandwich. As per Garten’s instructions, I buttered one side of each slice before flipping them both over to generously slather the other sides with the wet mixture I had made.
“Don’t neglect the corners!” Garten wrote. I was sure to give them some extra love.
I carefully laid out my one-inch pieces of bacon on top of the cheese spread on one slice of bread, and then covered them with the Gruyère and cheddar mixture before closing the sandwich with the other piece of bread on top.
Garten called for a panini press to be used in this recipe, but I didn’t have one on hand, so I made my own version instead.
With a panini press, both sides of it get hot. Because of that, I didn’t want to just use a cold plate and can to weigh the sandwich down.
Instead, I heated a smaller skillet on the stove until it was hot, and then sat it on top of the buttered bread, weighing it down with a large can of tomatoes. The hot pan acted like a heated top portion of a panini press.
Garten’s recipe wasn’t simple, but it was extremely easy to follow, leaving very little room for error.
There was barely any guesswork involved in this recipe, which is a massive relief for people who may not be so confident in the kitchen.
Yes, of course you could make substitutions if you wanted to. But it was nice to have the entire flavor profile already built into the recipe and ingredients list.
In my opinion, the one downfall of this dish was that it was pretty laborious. Between cooking the bacon, making the condiment, and grating all the cheese by hand, I wasn’t sure if the work would pay off.
However, if you’re looking for a childhood classic that fits your more grown-up palate, I think this is the sandwich to do it.
When I make this again, I will probably try using sliced versions of the cheddar and Gruyère rather than grated. I felt like I lost out on the flavors of each cheese by shredding and combining them. Both have so much to offer in terms of flavor complexity, but I couldn’t distinctly taste either of them in this sandwich as they muddled together and got oily.
I loved the meaty texture of the thick-cut bacon, though, and would recommend using the same parchment-covered pan method I went with. Even if you’re someone who, like me, orders bacon well-done all the time, try pulling it from the oven just before the crunch sets.
It was a lot of work, but this sandwich delivered everything I was craving.
Want more recipies from Ina Garten? Try out some of her most popular dishes from her hit cookbook:
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