Dinner Rush! Italian Patty Melts

Is 30 minutes too long to wait for a burger? Not if that burger is a patty melt. There's a reason this beauty is a staple of diner menus from coast to coast. If a grilled cheese sandwich and a hamburger had a baby with French onion soup-like tendencies, this is what the kid would look like.

While variations (like this Italian version, made with mozzarella, basil, tomato and balsamic-caramelized onions) do exist, the foundation of a truly delicious patty melt rests on three essential pillars. First off, the onions have to be caramelized and full of flavor. Authentic caramelized onions can take up to an hour, so speed things up a bit by deglazing the pan with something sweet, in this case the balsamic vinegar.

Secondly, the cheese has got to be melted and gooey. Don't rush the toasting portion of the patty melt. Warm melted cheese and cold solid cheese are worlds apart.

Lastly — and this goes with that whole "don't rush the toasting" part — two quality pieces of bread deserve the crispy, golden-brown crust that only a low-and-slow heat can provide. It can be tempting to crank the heat up to move things along, but you’ll be on the fast track to a charcoal sandwich. Give the patty melt time and it will reward you kindly.

Italian Patty Melts
Total Time: 30 min
Prep: 5 min
Cook: 25 min
Yield: 4 servings
Level: Easy
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 large sweet onion, thinly sliced
6 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves removed and chopped
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped or grated
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
Salt and ground black pepper
1/2 pound ground beef
1/2 pound ground pork
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
8 thick-cut slices sourdough bread
1 ripe tomato, thinly sliced
12 basil leaves
1/2 pound ball fresh mozzarella, thinly sliced
Mixed green salad, for serving

Place a large saute pan over medium heat with 2 tablespoons olive oil, onions and thyme. Cook, stirring often, until the onions are tender and beginning to caramelize, 10 to 12 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until aromatic, 1 minute. Add the vinegar to the pan and cook to reduce, about 1 minute. Season with salt and pepper. Remove the onions from the pan and reserve.

Wipe the pan clean and return to medium-high heat with 1 tablespoon olive oil. Mix the beef and pork together, and season with salt and pepper. Divide the mixture into four portions and shape into patties about 1/2 inch thick. Cook the patties to your liking, about 3 minutes per side for medium. Remove the patties from the pan.

Assemble the sandwiches by spreading the butter onto one side of each slice of bread. Keeping the buttered side out, assemble four sandwiches by layering the cooked patties, reserved onions, sliced tomato, basil and mozzarella.

Wipe the saute pan clean and return it to medium heat. Cook the sandwiches until the bread is toasted and cheese is melted, about 3 minutes per side.

Serve warm with a mixed green salad.

NOTE: When toasting your sandwiches, if they don’t all fit in the pan, prepare them in batches, keeping the sandwiches warm in a 200 degree F oven as they’re ready.

Patrick W. Decker’s life revolves around food. Always has, probably always will. As a graduate of The Culinary Institute of America and past member of the culinary teams for Food Network stars Rachael Ray, Sandra Lee, Marc Forgione and Bobby Deen, he now works on digital production for FoodNetwork.com, CookingChannelTV.com and Food.com in NYC by day and develops recipes at his home in New York’s Hudson Valley by night. You can see what he’s up to by following him on Twitter & Instagram at @patrickwdecker or visiting his website at patrickwdecker.com.

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