- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 24, 2005

If you watch television commercials for fast-food restaurants, you’re bombarded with pitches for toasted sandwiches.

It’s no secret that heating bread improves the texture, but heating or toasting also heightens the taste of the fillings. Meat and cheese often don’t develop their full flavors when chilled.

And how about the fun factor? What could make a more delightful entree than a buttery and gooey filling of hot melted cheese?

Restaurants give the impression that advanced technology is required for this breakthrough or that you have to eat out. Fortunately, that’s not so.

You can make a luscious sandwich at home using your outdoor grill or your oven. Start with a crusty roll or bread. You want bread that will deliver crunch when heated. Add a filling of cheese, meat and a zesty relish. Wrap your masterpiece in foil, and place it on a preheated grill or in the oven to heat through.

Serve this panini packet for two at a Memorial Day backyard celebration. End the meal with cooked pears and ginger over ice cream. You can vary the sauce substituting apricots, peaches, plums or mangos, if you prefer.

Panini packets

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1 small red onion, thinly sliced

cup pitted, chopped fresh sweet cherries

Dash of ancho chili powder

2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar

1/8 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon pepper

1 5-inch-square roll or 1 5-inch length of French or Italian bread

3 slices fontina cheese

3 slices Canadian bacon

Heat vegetable oil in a small skillet. Add onion and cherries, and saute over medium-high heat for 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Stir in chili powder, vinegar, salt and pepper. Mix well and simmer 1 minute to blend flavors. Remove from heat and set aside.

Split the roll or bread open. Arrange cheese and Canadian bacon on the bottom of the roll. Top with the onion and cherry mixture. Place the panini on a sheet of heavy-duty aluminum foil and fold to seal.

Place the panini packet over a medium-hot grill. Heat for 5 minutes. Unwrap the foil and heat another 2 to 3 minutes or until cheese melts. Remove from the grill. Cut the sandwich in half and serve. Makes 2 servings.

Note: In case of inclement weather, pop the packets into a preheated 375-degree oven. Toast for 8 minutes, then unwrap the packets and heat another 5 minutes to toast the bread.

Ginger-poached pears over ice cream

2 tablespoons butter, divided

4 1/4-inch-thick slices fresh ginger root

2 large ripe pears, cored, seeded and sliced 1/4-inch thick

1 tablespoon brown sugar

Pinch of salt

1/3 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Vanilla ice cream

Melt 1 tablespoon butter in large skillet. Add ginger root and saute for 1 minute. Add remaining 1 tablespoon butter to skillet. Add pear slices and saute 1 to 2 minutes per side or until golden. Stir in brown sugar, salt and cinnamon. Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until pears are golden and tender, about 5 minutes. Discard ginger slices.

To serve, scoop vanilla ice cream into each of 2 bowls. Spoon on pear slices. Makes 2 servings.

Note: If desired, stir 1 tablespoon dark rum or whiskey into pears along with the brown sugar.


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