What?s for lunch: Broiled cheese and tomato sandwich


September 5, 2007

I finally went to see Ratatouille last week and I?m convinced that there are some vegetarians writing and designing for Pixar. Aside from one sweetbread recipe and a passing frame of sausages in the fridge, the film?all about French haute cuisine, mind you?is remarkably meat-free. Remy the rat may be able to cook anything to perfection, but the only ingredients you see him handle are vegetables and spices, and the foods that make him swoon are bread and cheese.

What I really loved about the movie, however, is how Remy?s culinary triumph hinges on a childhood memory of food. (Saying this doesn?t give away the plot, don?t worry). It?s not a new concept. Marcel Proust defined it with his description of eating a madeleine in Remembrance of Things Past:

? dispirited after a dreary day with the prospect of a depressing morrow, I raised to my lips a spoonful of the tea in which I had soaked a morsel of the cake. No sooner had the warm liquid mixed with the crumbs touched my palate than ... An exquisite pleasure had invaded my senses.? The taste was that of the little piece of madeleine, which on Sunday mornings ? my aunt Léonie used to give me, dipping it first in her own cup of tea or tisane.

I abridged that quite a bit because Proust can be?um?wordy. But the Ratatouille version was shorter and spot on.

Oh, how I could relate! Just before, I?d indulged in a little sentimental eating myself. With the tail end of tomato season here, I wanted only one thing: to slice a tomato over white bread, cover it with Cheddar cheese and broil the open-face sandwich in the toaster oven. This is what I used to fix myself every day in the summer from grade school (I remember making it between marathon Barbie sessions) to college graduation. After that, other foods came along?but wraps and panini just don?t move me the way this sandwich does, no matter how often I eat them.

Because I?m in France, land of Brie and baguettes, an obsession with white bread and non-French cheese doesn?t just require explaining (Proust comes in really handy here), it also calls for serious planning ahead. The bread was easy?you can find sliced white bread at most supermarkets. The cheese I had to special order from an Irish shop in a town 20 miles away and it cost me more per pound than your finest French Camembert. I don?t care though. It was absolutely worth it?the magic worked the same way it worked for Proust?and in Ratatouille.

What about you? Got a childhood food memory to share? Click on the comments button.

?Mary Margaret Chappell, food editor