Nicola Collie / Gouda Grilled Cheese with Date + Sun Dried Tomato ‘Tapenade’
Dance is an artistic practice that I find eternally mesmerizing. The contortion and pressure one puts on the body to create shapes, images and movements is simply amazing. So when I came across a post on Paloma Wool’s instagram of a woman dressed in their signature sweater doing a unique freestyle dance in a backyard, I was hypnotized. Down the instagram rabbit-hole I went, only to find that this dancer, Nicola Collie, had a plethora of postings of herself dancing in natural surroundings. Clips of dance without music, listening to the sound of the outdoors and her feet scraping across the raw dirt and gravel were totally refreshing. When art can sometimes feel inaccessible or unrelatable, Nicola’s work gave me a sense of just the opposite.
Fast forward to some months later when we transferred communication from the virtual realm to reality. I learned that her practice includes far more than dance, notably modeling and commercial acting, both of which marry together to highlight her dance practice. Whether it’s an ad for Warby Parker or UberEats, or a music video for the likes of Jason Mraz or Walk the Moon, or something based completely in the world of contemporary art, Nicola’s talents are diverse and interdisciplinary to say the least.
On a bright autumnal LA day we gathered in Nicola’s backyard to create shapes in body and food. Completely at ease with the lens, Nicola began her movement against the backdrop of a neighbor’s cacti garden and the mountains to the east of the city. Something about this combination of pure movement among natural scenery without the input of additional sound touched on that refreshing artistic moment that caught my eye in the first place. To compliment this authentic moment in time, we made a grilled cheese sandwich with aged gouda and a date-sun dried tomato ‘tapenade’ which like Nicola’s dancing, hit all the right notes.
Gouda Grilled Cheese with Date + Sun Dried Tomato ‘Tapenade’
For the ‘Tapenade’
6-7 sun dried tomatoes (in oil or see below for oil soak, in which case you’ll also need olive oil, chili flakes and oregano)
5 large medjool dates, pitted
1 clove garlic
1 tbsp chopped shallot
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
Juice of 1/2 lemon
salt + pepper
For the sandwich
Good quality, thick sandwich bread
Aged gouda of choice
~3-4 tbsp salted butter
Bitter greens (any salad green will do, but a bitter green is preferable to contrast the fat in the cheese, butter and tapenade)
For the ‘Tapenade’
If your sun dried tomatoes are not already in oil, you can make your own. I prefer to buy dried tomatoes because then I can control the oil and flavors used. In this case, in a jar, submerge the whole sun dried tomatoes in enough olive oil to cover them, with a dash of red chili flakes and oregano. Let them sit at room temperature for at least 2 hours.
In a mortar (very preferred) combine the sun dried tomatoes (removed from jar of oil), dates, a healthy pinch of course salt, and the garlic. Mash until you develop a chunky paste. If you don’t have a mortar you can use a food processor but pulse very gently. If you don’t have either you can use a knife and make an old-style paste by continuously chopping on the cutting board.
Once combined, add the chopped shallot, lemon juice, balsamic vinegar, and a dash of pepper. Continue to gently combine, taste and add anything accordingly to balance. Remember that the garlic and shallot will intensify over time! Place in a jar and refrigerate, preferably overnight but at least 30 minutes.
Assembling the sandwich
Cut the bread to desired thickness; not too thin, otherwise it will burn and not hold up, not too thick otherwise the cheese won’t melt enough.
Thinly slice the gouda for enough slices to layer once in the sandwich.
Heat a medium saucepan on medium heat. Add a small knob of butter and toast two pieces of bread on one side only. Turn off the burner.
Once toasted, remove and prepare cheese on one slice, toasted side up, and a nice schmear of the ‘tapenade’ on the other, toasted side up. You’ll end up with the toasted sides as the inside of the sandwich and the untoasted sides on the outside.
Return the burner to medium. Once heated, add another knob of butter and place the cheese side of the sandwich face down in the pan. Keeping an eye, grill until nicely browned, flip the sandwich gently with a spatula and repeat on the other side. Once grilled and melted, return to a cutting board and gently lift the ‘tapenade’ side of the sandwich and place some greens inside. Cut in half and enjoy!
Learn more about Nicola here.