- The Washington Times - Monday, March 8, 2004

For someone who breaks out in hives when she has to iron a piece of clothing, I’m strangely attracted to pressed sandwiches.

Years ago, I stopped in a Miami coffee shop for a Cuban sandwich and watched while the cook put a stack of pork, cheese and bread on a gizmo that looked like an industrial pants presser. It was an amazing process, resulting in a hot, crisp sandwich flattened to a delicious mouthful.

Closer to home in a neighborhood cafe, I’ve been ordering toasted ham-and-cheese sandwiches made on a panini press, similar to a closed grill pan. You put the sandwich on the heated press, pull down the lid and wait the prescribed amount of time.

There’s a scene in the Johnny Depp movie “Benny & Joon,” in which a character flattens cheese sandwiches using an iron on the ironing board. I’m not ready to plug in my iron yet.

Besides, if I ever have to get the wrinkles out of a shirt, I don’t want to leave a cheddar stain. Instead, I created a low-tech alternative to a sandwich press. This is going to seem silly, but trust me. It works.

To make a sandwich that’s hot and tender at the core and brown and crunchy on the outside, melt a little butter or olive oil in a skillet. Add your sandwich. Then top with a plate that’s slightly smaller in diameter than the skillet.

Weigh down the plate with a heavy can and cook according to the recipe directions. The finished sandwich will be just as appetizing and eye-appealing as any you’d make with an electric gadget.

You can use this technique for a cheese or meat-and-cheese sandwich. Try it with pancetta, an Italian bacon, and aged Gouda cheese. The smoky meat is available at better supermarkets. If you can’t find it, substitute thick-cut bacon, but fry it partially to render out some of the fat before assembling the sandwich. Round out the meal with roasted squash and pear soup. The sweet and spicy soup is very satisfying.

Roasted squash and pear soup

1 small butternut squash, halved lengthwise

2 small pears, cored, stemmed and quartered

1 small onion, quartered

Salt

1 tablespoon olive oil

cup half-and-half

1 to 2 cups chicken broth

teaspoon ground ginger

teaspoon ground nutmeg

Freshly ground pepper

Place squash, pears and onion in small roasting pan, cut sides up. Sprinkle with salt to taste and olive oil. Roast in preheated 400-degree oven for 45 minutes or until very soft. Remove and set aside.

When they are cool enough to handle, peel squash and pears. Place squash, pears and onion in blender with half-and-half. Puree.

Remove to a small pot. Add 1 cups broth, ginger, nutmeg, and salt and pepper to taste. Heat through and add remaining broth, if desired, to thin. Makes 2 servings.

Pancetta-and-cheese sandwich

2 pieces focaccia, cut 1 inches wide and 6 inches long

2 tablespoons Dijon-style mustard

4 ounces (4 slices) aged Gouda cheese

4 slices pancetta

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

Cut each piece of focaccia in half widthwise. Spread 1 tablespoon mustard on each bottom half. Top with 2 slices cheese and half the pancetta. Close with remaining focaccia.

Melt butter in medium skillet. Add sandwiches. Press down with weighted plate.

Fry 3 to 5 minutes per side or until the bread browns and cheese melts. Makes 2 servings.

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