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Panini Sandwiches With Italian Flair

Something Different

Some food fads seem to come straight from appliance makers determined to clutter up our kitchen counters. Currently, the hot new gadget is the sandwich grill or panini press. Similar to the waffle iron, some versions produce a crisp, thin-toasted sandwich that can be addictive.

Most Italians prefer panini filled with thin slices of mozzarella cheese and tomato, plus fresh basil leaves, though these crustless sandwiches may contain another kind of cheese and grilled vegetables, or a slice of prosciutto. Although sometimes eaten cold, more often the sandwich is brushed lightly with olive oil and heated on a hinged grill. The heavy cover presses the panino while making it crisp and golden on both sides at once.

Italians consider the American grilled cheese sandwich a panino. As with other panini, the secret to its perfection is weighting it down. But this does not necessarily require a special grill. You can just as easily place a heavy, cast iron skillet on top of the sandwich as it cooks, turning the panino once. To make several panini at one time, I use the hinged contact grill so many of us have, though it does not press the sandwiches as firmly as the skillet.

Italians consider panini a snack. Despite what they claim, Europeans do snack. But they do it more wholesomely and modestly than Americans. They go to a coffee bar, for example, to enjoy a savory panino plus a cup of espresso, usually while standing up. Most Americans still snack on fat-laden chips by the handful, along with a sweetened beverage, while doing other things, so preoccupied that the calories we consume barely register on our minds.

My favorite panini use whole grain-bread and Swiss cheese, plus roasted vegetables or thin apple slices, a delicious way to consume two servings of whole grain, plus some veggies and fruit.

Italian Toasted Cheese Sandwich
2 slices whole-grain bread, crusts removed(if desired)
Canola cooking spray
1 garlic clove, halved lengthwise (optional)
1/4 tsp. dried oregano
1 slice reduced fat Swiss cheese, such as Jarlsberg Light
1/3 cup roasted vegetables, commercially prepared or leftovers

Coat the bread slices lightly with cooking spray on one side. Place the slices, sprayed side down, on a cutting board. Lightly rub top of bread with the cut side of the garlic. Sprinkle oregano over one slice, then top with the cheese, followed by the roasted vegetables. Add the second slice of bread, sprayed side facing up.

Heat a hinged electric grill or, if cooking stove-top, a griddle or a skillet, preferably cast iron, over medium-high heat. Place the sandwich on the cooking surface so that the cheese is closest to the heat. If using an electric grill, close it. If grilling on top of the stove, use a small heavy skillet or pan to weigh down on top of the sandwich.

Grill the sandwich 1 to 1 1/2 minutes, or until the cheese has melted and the bread is well browned on the bottom. Carefully flip the sandwich and grill until brown on the second side, 30 seconds to 1 minute.

Using a serrated knife, cut the sandwich in half diagonally. Serve immediately.

Makes 1 sandwich.
Per serving: 210 calories, 6 g. total fat (3 g. saturated fat), 30 g. carbohydrate, 13 g. protein, 5 g. dietary fiber, 326 mg. sodium.

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