Sometimes, on the weekends, I put my husband in charge of cooking. I am lucky, he is a very capable cook, having grown up in a household where both parents regularly turn out delicious meals that would make any chef green with envy. Since I've known him he has made some fantastic dishes including homemade vegetarian spring rolls, mustard-crusted rack of lamb, and all sorts of seafood dishes involving scallops, which are my favorite. It is pretty rare that he takes a misstep in the kitchen. I've only seem him burn - no, char - a pork tenderloin once. In his defense we were also trying to hang pictures in the other room at the same time, hence, we learned our lesson about multi-tasking when cooking. Last month, having witnessed many of his past successes, I decided it was time to give him a true challenge. I put him in charge of an emergency meal.
You see, that morning my daughter and I had just flown home from Florida. The trip had not gone well, my daughter was wide awake and crying for the entire flight, plus, she had a low-grade fever. We were tired, cranky and not in the mood to do anything other than be lazy on the sofa while watching Dora and Boots scamper over rickety bridges. For the duration of the afternoon my husband served as chief runner, jogging back and forth from the kitchen bearing sippy cups of ice water and cheddar goldfish for my daughter, and fresh cranberry spritzers with sourdough pretzels for me. By dinner time I recovered enough from our flight trauma to generate a small appetite, and, after all the running to and fro, my husband was ravenous. When he looked to me, desperate for meal ideas, I held both hands out to my side and turned my palms upward. I was at a loss for inspiration, he was on his own.
Being the resourceful guy that he is, in the middle of this meal crisis, he pulled a brilliant move. From the dark recesses of a kitchen cabinet he retrieved our panini maker. We had received the panini maker as a gift at my "alphabet" themed wedding shower in Cooperstown, my hometown. My friend, Christina, was assigned the letter "P" and, thus, bought me a panini maker. I hadn't registered for it but I am forever grateful for the gift. The panini maker quickly became one of our most favorite kitchen gadgets from the moment we unwrapped it. In our pre-parenthood years, when we were both working at offices, we would come home spent and uninspired after long days at work. It was during these times we discovered that, as long as you have a loaf of bread, almost any combination of ingredients can form a panini. In this particular instance my husband had spied a fresh loaf of sourdough bread on the counter, along with recently purchased thinly sliced spanish jamon, roasted vegetables and a ball of mozzarella in the fridge. I hadn't planned on making sandwiches with all these ingredients, but, despite my original intentions for them, it was obvious they were meant to form our dinner.
As with any toasted sandwich the assembly was a total snap. It was even snappier because of the low-tech kitchen tool we had at our disposal. All we had to do was assemble sandwiches and squash them between the heated plates to toast. During the few minutes it took to cook I had time to refill my spritzer, pull a plate out of the cupboard and prepare myself for warm, oozy mozzarella. As expected the flavors of this sandwich were perfect. Instead of using anything too heavy my husband had drizzled the inside of the bread with olive oil and a sprinkling of balsamic vinegar. The dreamy mozzarella perfectly offset the sweet vegetables and salty jamon. I found comfort in every single bite, exactly the kind of meal I needed after an arduous journey. Even my daughter liked the sandwich we made for her, just a simple pressed cheese of fresh mozzarella with diced vegetables on the side. I think she was as grateful for the warm, homemade meal as I was. After we tucked her into bed that evening I hugged my husband, congratulating him on surviving an emergency meal, one of the great cooking challenges of all time. I was glad to be home.
Naptime Jamon, Vegetable and Mozzarella Panini - inspired by ingredients in the fridge
4 slices of fresh sourdough bread
6 slices of fresh lightly salted mozzarella
2 thinly sliced pieces of spanish jamon (or prosciutto if jamon is unavailable)
4 slices of roasted vegetables, any kind you want (we had slices of roasted red pepper, squash, zucchini and eggplant)
Yields 2 paninis, double portions to make more sandwiches
1. Preheat panini maker and lightly brush plates with olive oil. If you don't have a panini maker you can use a simple griddle pan, or even a skillet. Just be sure to have a wide spatula to press the sandwich down with while it toasts.
2. On one slice of sourdough bread drizzle it lightly with olive oil. Then sprinkle it with balsamic vinegar.
3. Cover this slice of bread with a layer of jamon.
4. Then, over the jamon, place a layer of roasted vegetables, allowing the vegetables to overlap slightly.
5. Finally, place three slices of mozzarella on top of the vegetables. Top with second slice of bread.
6. Place sandwich on the panini maker and toast until the bread is crispy and cheese is fully melted.
Naptime Recipe Props: Everyone loves a warm sandwich and this one fits the bill. I encourage you to explore the flexibility of this recipe. Try different vegetables or cheeses, or, if you are a vegetarian you can omit the meat altogether.
Naptime Stopwatch: This meal took about 15 minutes from start to finish. Assembling the sandwiches takes about 3 minutes, then the toasting takes about 7-9, depending on your sandwich maker.
Naptime Reviews: A panini ranks right up there with a grilled cheese, an ideal comfort food. We all loved it, including my daughter. I know we will leave this kitchen tool where it is easily accessible.