A jar of artichoke hearts is just the ticket for a filling vegetarian delight.
Tuna melts are said to have been accidentally discovered in the 1960s when a bowl of tuna salad fell onto a grilled cheese sandwich at the lunch counter of the Woolworth department store in Charleston, South Carolina. It might sound like the cutest of a whole series of romantic comedies — and it’s just as rife with sexual tension — but it’s done well for the tuna melt that’s become one of America’s must-have sandwiches.
The tuna melt remains an icon, but one that continues to evolve as plant-based eating becomes more popular. Chickpeas are a well-known alternative, usually pureed and seasoned similar to a classic tuna salad, but there are other, more vegetarian options. Take Smitten Kitchen’s Deb Perelman’s Broccoli Melts, for example: a blend of chopped, blanched “broccoli slivers” combined with garlic, lemon zest, lemon juice and a healthy helping of pecorino cheese – topped off with a slice of grilled provolone for the gooey cheesiness, that melts it.
When I first saw Perelman’s broccoli melt recipe in 2016, I realized that melts were a large category of cheese-covered, open-faced sandwiches and were by no means limited to tuna. In fact, they didn’t even need a protein to function as a perfectly acceptable meal — the possibilities suddenly seemed endless.
A few years later, while working at the small Seattle bakery, Cafe Besalu, I stumbled across artichoke melts. One of our bakers, Rozlyn, had come up with a quiche recipe filled with a mixture of artichoke hearts, garlic, parsley and Parmesan cheese. One day, while trying desperately to put together a lunch, I scooped some of the artichoke quiche mixture onto a piece of bread and topped it with some grated cheese. I put it in the oven under a baking tray with croissants and a few minutes later I was able to enjoy my new creation. I was surprised how well the salty, meaty and salty marinated artichoke hearts could replace the tuna. Even without real protein, the Artichoke Melt left me feeling full and full.
Artichoke melts are a quick and easy lunch I make at home all the time now, especially when my fridge is looking empty. I always start by draining and rinsing the artichoke hearts to soften them a bit but preserve the salty flavor while removing excess oil (which could make the sandwich soggy). The artichoke hearts are then simply chopped and tossed with minced garlic, chopped parsley, red pepper flakes, lemon zest, and grated parmesan—the result is a “salad” that tastes bright and fresh, even under a blanket of melted Monterey Jack cheese.
The Veggie Melt provides a tasty excuse to use up anything sitting around in the fridge, from leftover sautéed mushrooms to roasted eggplant. The lesson is that most foods taste great on bread and under a generous layer of cheese. Why settle for tuna when loads of veggies could tumble over a grilled cheese sandwich and create a new melt?