By Cal Orey
Say hello to the panini sandwich wonder. It’s an Italian hot sandwich consisting of two slices of bread—baguette of French bread—stuffed with cheese and meat and fried on a grill, pan, or broiled. This present-day, popular grilled sandwich goes back to the 20th century. And, you don’t have to travel far to find one at restaurants around the Lake. But you can also do it yourself at home.
One late spring, chilly afternoon after viewing the movie “It’s Complicated” I made my first panini inspired by Meryl Streep’s dish, a hot cheesy French sandwich called Croque Monsieur. It wowed and wooed male characters Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin—and me. It’s a simple sandwich with an egg base, ham, tomato, cheese and bread—one or two slices. I chose to go the Italian panini route—no eggs.
Tuna Cheddar Cheese Panini
2 tablespoons finely chopped cucumber
2 tablespoons chopped celery
1 tablespoon chopped red onion (optional)
3 tablespoons mayonnaise with olive oil (store bought)
3-ounce can albacore tuna in water, drained
Ground black pepper to taste
2-3 tablespoons European style butter with sea salt
4 thick slices Artisan European style French bread made with organic flour (or a baguette)
4 slices cheddar cheese
1 Roma tomato, sliced
Fresh basil, chopped (optional)
In a bowl, combine cucumber, celery, onion, mayo, tuna, and pepper. Stir and chill in refrigerator. Place 4 bread slices on a cutting board. On medium heat, use a large skillet to add butter, melt, and add bread. Top 2 slices bread with tuna mixture, cheese, and tomato. Then top with the other 2 slices of buttered bread. Place another smaller pan (or spatula) on top of sandwiches. Cook about 3-5 minutes on each side or until brown. You can also use the oven broiler. *I put tomato on the sandwich after it was cooked. Slice each sandwich in half. Top with fresh basil. Serves two.
A panini press or grill is nice to achieve grill marks. But two skillets or oven broiler can achieve the toasted grill imprint, sort of. The crunch of the soft but crispy bread, gooey cheese and creamy tuna with bits of goodness are well, good (especially if you use premium ingredients). It’s comfort food with a wholesome twist. Serve with a green salad. A scoop of chocolate gelato spread on top of a whole grain honey graham cracker (open face or a sandwich) paired with iced tea or coffee will complete this scrumptious Mediterranean meal to love.
— Cal Orey, M.A. is an author and journalist. Her books include the Healing Powers Series (Vinegar, Olive Oil, Chocolate, Honey, Coffee, and Tea) published by Kensington. (The collection has been featured by the Good Cook Book Club.) Her website is www.calorey.com .