Creamy Sage Derby cheddar cheese and butternut squash, topped with wilted spinach and caramelized onions, make this warm and satisfying grown-up grilled cheese a fall favorite. Use a semi-dense bread. You’ll need it to soak up all these rich flavors.
I’m prone to wandering. When I was young, my mind wandered… a lot. Just ask my grade school teachers. I was usually thinking about something I wanted to draw or create. As an adult, my wandering continues – through parks, along trails, in libraries and museums, and at grocery stores.
A trip to the grocery store is more than just shopping for me. It’s a creative jam session. I’m inspired by whatever looks delicious and fresh, or by something that reminds me of a recipe I saw on a blog that I’ve been meaning to make. I’ll think about applying a favorite technique to a new food (can I smoke this?), or a new skill I want to acquire (I’ve been meaning to learn how to make a great hollandaise sauce so I can make Eggs Benedict for Noah.)
Quite often, it’s about discovering new foods. In the case of this Sage Derby Grilled Cheese, it was inspired by a new cheese. Our local Harvest Market has a darn respectable cheese section. They frequently offer samples (the 5-year cheddar we tried yesterday was excellent), and they have a small basket of “lonely cuts.” These are usually smaller or odd-sized pieces of cheese, of all types, and they are perfect when you want to try something new. A few weeks ago, I picked up some Sage Derby, and as soon as I tried it, I wanted to put it in a grilled cheese.
Sage Derby is an English cheddar originating from Derbyshire. It is a semi-hard, aged artisan cheddar, infused with sage and sometimes colored with other vegetable ingredients. It has an attractive marbled curd and would make a standout addition to a holiday cheese board.
Because the flavor of sage is so strongly associated with fall, I wanted to add some rich flavors to this sandwich. We’ve been having a lot of fun with our OXO Spiralizer (affiliate link), and I thought it would be a great way to create thinly-sliced butternut squash rounds to add to the sandwich. I’m always a fan of caramelized onions, especially with grilled cheese. And wilted spinach is so nutritious and flavorful that I thought it would bring a nice freshness to the sandwich and break up all that richness.
I’ve been on vacation this week, and finally got around to making this sandwich. I also baked challah bread two days ago, and that homemade loaf made all the difference in the quality of this sandwich. I would recommend challah if you want to use it. A semi-dense whole grain bread would also work. I would definitely go for something more substantial than sandwich bread for this one, because the toppings are soft and rich. You need something to soak up all that juiciness.
There are a few components to this dish, but you can prep the onions and the spinach in the same pan while you roast the squash, so there’s not a lot of mess involved. I used a separate pan to grill up the sandwiches, but you could rinse the pan you used for onions and spinach and use it to grill your sandwiches.
I enjoyed this sandwich so much, I am making it again for lunch today. It’s that good. I hope you enjoy it too.
Sage Derby and Butternut Squash Grilled Cheese Sandwich
- 1/2 butternut squash
- 1 tsp olive oil
- 2 tbsp butter divided
- 1 medium-sized yellow onion thinly sliced
- 2 cups baby spinach leaves packed
- salt and fresh pepper to taste
- 4 slices challah bread, or other semi-dense bread
- 3 oz Sage Derby cheddar cheese thinly sliced
Roast the Squash
Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.
Cut off the narrow top portion of the butternut squash. Cut off the stem end, peel it, and slice it thinly in rounds (or use a spiralizer.) Arrange squash rounds in a single layer on a large baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil, and season with salt and fresh pepper to taste.
Roast in oven for 12 minutes, or until squash is tender but not mushy. Remove from oven and set aside.
Caramelize the Onions
In a wide skillet over medium heat, melt 1 tablespoon of butter. Add sliced onions, season with a bit of salt, and stir to coat with butter. Let sit for a minute or two, then stir periodically until the onions are lightly browned and translucent, about 5-8 minutes. If the onions begin to stick and burn, reduce the heat a bit, or add a small amount of water to help deglaze the pan.
Remove onions from pan and set aside.
Wilt the Spinach
Return pan to heat and add 1/2 tablespoon butter. Add spinach leaves and season lightly with salt and fresh pepper. Toss leaves briefly until spinach leaves are wilted completely. Remove from heat and set aside.
Assemble the Sandwich
Place a skillet over medium-low heat. Spread remaining butter on one side of the four slices of bread. Place bread butter side down in skillet to grill. Top each slice of bread with a layer of Sage Derby cheese.
For each sandwich, top one side of the bread with half of the butternut squash slices, and the other half with a layer of caramelized onions, and a layer of spinach. (You might have some onions left over.)
Grill open-faced until bread is golden brown and toasted. Put sandwich together, slice in half, and serve.