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Don’t you love a grilled cheese sandwich with hot tomato soup on a winter evening? Well, here’s how to take it to the next level. On our trip to the Country House Montali in Italy, one of the most memorable dishes we had was Pizza Rustico al Formaggio, a light, airy bread I could only describe as “cheese fluff.”

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Note from Meera: these muffins are absolutely delicious. Like a thousand tiny grilled cheeses exploding in your mouth. If I didn’t have a steady source from Anupama, I’d look past my fear of baking, go on a scavenger hunt to get the ingredients, and get cracking. Seriously, do it.
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Montali makes it like a cake and cuts it into squares, but I’ve found that the batter rises better in muffin pans. It’s not difficult to make, but three of the ingredients are a bit of a challenge to find. Fortunately, I’ve discovered local sources for them all (and two can be substituted with almost no noticeable difference):

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Scamorza, fresh yeast and Italian “00” flour, with the recipe from Vegetteranean in the background.

1. Scamorza – A semi-soft white cheese that’s often sold smoked, but you want the non-smoked (Scamorza bianca) variety here. Basically mozzarella that’s been hung to ripen for two weeks, it’s said to melt much better than mozzarella and is often used on pizza and pastas. You can get it in some Italian grocery stores, but oddly the best local source is Giant Food in Columbia Heights (1345 Park Road NW, 202-777-1077). I’ve also seen it in regular supermarkets in other cities.

Fresh (compressed) yeast

Fresh (compressed) yeast

2. Fresh (compressed) yeast – this was the hardest to find. I finally got some from the very kind store manager at Breadline, but Giant supposedly has it sometimes too. Just call ahead and ask to speak with the manager if you’re going to go to Breadline. They’ll sell you a one-pound block for about $4.00 or cut a piece for you. I do think you could get good results by substituting active dry yeast here, but I just haven’t had the courage to try it. If you do, try 3 1/2 teaspoons of active dry yeast in this recipe. UPDATE: 3 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast works just as well – can’t tell the difference!

3. Italian “00” flour – this is a superfine high-gluten flour that’s ideal for making pizza, pasta, and this dish. You can get it at Vace in Cleveland Park (which also carries amazing pastas and sauces) and at most any Italian grocery store. UPDATE: All-purpose flour works well too, though the crumb will be just a little less fine.

And now for the recipe, slightly modified to make muffins,  from Vegeterranean:

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Extra virgin olive oil, for drizzling
Fine dry bread crumbs
2 cups Italian “00” flour (or all-purpose flour)
1/2 cup grated Parmesan
8 oz Scamorza, cut into 1/4 inch cubes
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter, melted
1/2 cup warm water
2 1/2 tablespoons compressed fresh yeast (or 3 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast)
1 teaspoon sugar
3 eggs

Preheat oven to 375° F.

Grease a 12-cup muffin pan generously with olive oil and dust with the bread crumbs. In a large bowl, combine the flour, cheeses, salt, and melted butter.

Flour, cheese, and salt mixture

Flour, cheese, and salt mixture

In a small bowl, mix together the warm water, yeast, and sugar and add to the flour mixture. Separately beat the eggs and add to the flour and liquid mixture. Mix the ingredients together with one hand, using a wide circular motion to incorporate air into the dough. Continue mixing with the circular motion for 30 seconds.

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Distribute mixture among muffin cups and set aside for 40 minutes or until puffy and risen.

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Bake at 375° F for 20 minutes. Serve hot. Makes 12 muffins.

These actually freeze well and reheat very nicely. Just place frozen muffins on a baking sheet and heat in a 350 degree oven until hot.

Tomato soup recipe coming soon!

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