Grilled sandwiches have European flair Entertaining: Italian-style panini, popular in Paris, are easily prepared and perfect for informal get-togethers.


Recently I spent a month working in Paris. I ate in bistros and small restaurants, visited the city's myriad food emporiums and shopped almost daily in the local markets. All the while I was searching for ideas for recipes to bring home.

During my culinary forays I made an interesting discovery: Parisians have become enthralled with panini - Italian-style sandwiches made with rolls or crusty-style peasant bread. Much to my surprise, I found panini available in many bakeries, and while walking through the capital's streets I saw signs for them in the windows of many French takeout food stores.

I loved every bite of the various panini I tasted. In a bakery in Montmartre, a simple combination of sliced tomatoes, fresh mozza-rella cheese and basil formed the filling for a grilled panini I ordered. A few days later at Fauchon's (Paris' most famous retail food shop), I had a much more extravagant version of this Italian sandwich. There I sampled a piping hot panini made with grilled asparagus and truffle butter.

Back home in my own kitchen, I combined slices of store-bought roasted chicken, roasted peppers (also store-bought), a few spinach leaves and thin slices of creamy blue cheese as a filling for sandwiches made with crusty sourdough bread. I also added a hint of rosemary and red pepper flakes as extra seasonings. I brushed the outside of the bread lightly with olive oil and quickly grilled the sandwiches on a stove-top grill. The warm panini were delicious and took only minutes to assemble and cook, because the chicken and peppers were purchased already roasted.

These panini lend themselves to informal entertaining and could be served with a bowl of soup or a mixed greens salad in a vinaigrette dressing for a fall lunch or supper. Although the recipe makes two sandwiches, it can easily be doubled or tripled for larger groups.

Panini with chicken, blue cheese and roasted red peppers

Makes 2 servings

4 (1/2-inch-thick) slices crusty sourdough or peasant bread

4 ounces roasted chicken breast, sliced (see note)

1 large roasted red pepper, cut into 1-inch-wide strips (see note)

2 ounces creamy blue cheese (Saga Blue works well), sliced

1 1/2 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary or 1/2 teaspoon dried, crushed

scant 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes

4 large spinach leaves, stemmed

1 to 1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil

Place 1 bread slice on work surface and top with half of chicken. Top with half of pepper slices, then half of cheese. Sprinkle with 3/4 teaspoon fresh rosemary (1/4 teaspoon dried) and 1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes. Top with 2 spinach leaves and another bread slice. Repeat for second sandwich. Brush sand-wiches on outside with olive oil.

Heat stove-top grill pan or skillet sprayed with nonstick vegetable cooking spray until hot. Add sandwiches and cook until grill marks appear on underside or until bread is lightly toasted, about 2 minutes. Turn and cook same way on other side. Cheese should be completely melted. Cut sandwiches in half and serve warm.

Note: I buy a roasted chicken from the supermarket and slice breast meat from it for these sandwiches. Meat is more flavorful than slices cut from a chicken roll. Roasted red peppers can be bought jarred in the condiments section of grocery stores, or sometimes they are available fresh at salad bar section.

Pub Date: 5/03/98

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