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Kale, crispy bacon upgrades grilled cheese to an adult level

Satisfying, tasty and quick, a grilled cheese is a weeknight staple for a reason. But we use a couple tricks to spruce it up, taking it from an after-school kids’ treat to a meal an adult would love.

First, we don’t shy away from a bit of cooking before assembling the sandwich, as in this recipe from our book “Cook What You Have,” which draws on pantry staples to create easy, weeknight meals. We give grilled cheese a tasty — and somewhat healthful! — update by sautéing kale by the handful with caramelized onions to make the bulk of the filling for the sandwich.

Second, when we grill the buttered bread, we press down on the sandwich to make more contact with the pan, which promotes flavorful browning.

A slather of mustard lends tangy contrast to the melty cheese. To add a salty-smoky note, tuck crisp bacon slices inside the sandwiches before cooking them, though it’s still delicious without it.

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Just be sure to use a hearty sandwich bread that’s sturdy enough to contain all the fillings so the sandwich doesn’t fall apart when you pull it out of the pan.

Kale and Cheddar Melts with Caramelized Onion

Start to finish: 40 minutes

Servings: 4

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 medium yellow onion, halved and thinly sliced

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Kosher salt and ground black pepper

1 large bunch lacinato kale OR curly kale, stemmed and chopped into rough 1-inch pieces (about 12 cups)

2 tablespoons salted butter, room temperature

8 slices hearty white OR whole-wheat OR rye sandwich bread

4 teaspoons whole-grain mustard OR Dijon mustard

8 slices cheddar OR provolone OR whole-milk mozzarella OR pepper jack cheese

4 slices cooked bacon (optional)

In a 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high, heat the oil until shimmering. Add the onion, ¾ teaspoon salt and ½ teaspoon pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is soft and golden brown, about 10 minutes. Add the kale a large handful at a time, stirring to slightly wilt after each addition. Add ¼ cup water, then reduce to medium, cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until the kale is tender, 10 to 12 minutes. Transfer the kale mixture to a medium bowl; set aside. Wipe out the skillet.

Meanwhile, spread butter over 1 side of each slice of bread, evenly dividing the butter. Flip the slices to be buttered side down, then spread about ½ teaspoon mustard on each slice. Top each of 4 bread slices with 1 slice of cheese, a quarter of the kale mixture and 1 slice of bacon (if using), torn to fit. Top each with a slice of the remaining cheese, then with another slice of bread, buttered side up. Press on the sandwiches to compact the fillings.

Heat the skillet over medium until droplets of water flicked onto the surface quickly sizzle and evaporate. Add 2 of the sandwiches and cook until golden brown on the bottoms, 2 to 3 minutes. Using a wide spatula, flip the sandwiches and cook, pressing down lightly and adjusting the heat as needed, until golden brown on the second sides and the cheese is melted, 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer to a cutting board. Cook the remaining sandwiches in the same way (the second batch may cook faster). Cut each sandwich in half.

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EDITOR’S NOTE: For more recipes, go to Christopher Kimball’s Milk Street at