I was not a hugely adventurous eater in my grade school years until my friend Leah came along. Her parents were college professors and were both avid, adventurous cooks. Her dad had a lush garden and grew the most beautiful heirloom tomatoes—the first I had ever seen. I had eaten tomatoes before, but I never really loved them until I tasted these. And I’ll never forget the day he served them up in this sandwich.
We stood in his sun-dappled kitchen, cutting slices from a sturdy Italian loaf and slathering them with mayo as he stood at the stove, frying thick slices of provolone cheese in olive oil. It bubbled and sputtered and got a beautiful golden brown crust, giving off an almost bacon-y aroma. The fried cheese was carefully lifted from the pan, blotted gently on a paper towel, and then placed on the waiting bread slices. We then added slabs of salted tomato, then the top slices of the bread, and sat down at the table to eat. I think my toes curled—I’d never had anything like it.
Thirty-five years later, I still swoon over this sandwich, though I typically only make it once a year—fried cheese is a bit of an indulgence, after all. You really want to wait for great tomatoes, too—the ones at the farmers market in late summer are perfect for it, and if you can pluck a sun-warmed tomato from your garden, even better.
Test Kitchen Notes
WHO: Lastnightsdinner is a recovering picky eater who makes up for her refusal to bake with her cooking skills.
WHAT: Another good excuse to eat tomatoes off the vine.
HOW: Add pan-fried provolone cheese and salted tomato slices to mayonnaise-smeared bread. Take a moment to rejoice in the return of summer produce.
WHY WE LOVE IT: When heirloom tomatoes start returning to our local farmers market, we'll jump for joy, then set to making this sandwich immediately. The fat from the mayonnaise, oil, and cheese allow the natural sweetness of the tomato to shine without overpowering it. Our only advice: Buy another tomato and double the recipe. You won't be able to get enough. —The Editors
to 4 1/4-inch slices provolone cheese
Olive oil for frying (doesn't have to be your best bottle)
your favorite mayonnaise, plus more as needed
Add a thin layer of olive oil to the bottom of a heavy-bottomed skillet and heat until shimmering. Carefully add the slices of provolone and let them fry until crusty and golden on the outside but still gooey in the center, about 2 to 3 minutes total, carefully flipping them halfway through. (Flipping them is tricky and messy, and you'll probably curse my name, but it can be done—just be careful not to splatter yourself. Using a nonstick pan is also helpful.) Once it's done, carefully remove it from the pan, allowing any excess oil to drip back into the pan, and blot it gently on a paper towel.
Spread the mayonnaise evenly across four slices of bread, adding more as desired. Core the tomato and cut it into 4 slices. Place the fried cheese on 2 of the slices of bread, layer 2 tomato slices on each piece of bread, sprinkle with salt and pepper, then top with the 2 remaining slices of bread. Grab lots of napkins and dig in.