Easy Grilled Sandwiches

Quick and easy to make, the new grilled sandwiches are big on nutrition and flavor.
Mary Allen Perry

Short-Order Grilled Sandwiches
Quick and easy to make, the new grilled sandwiches are big on nutrition and flavor. Whole grain breads filled with a hearty mix of lean meats, melted cheese, and fresh vegetables make a terrific meal any time of day--and with a nonstick surface, you can cook up a crisp, golden-brown crust using little or no added oil.

The popular Italian-style sandwiches known as panini are prepared in a special grill press that eliminates the need for turning. When we gave one a try in the Test Kitchens, it was a huge hit. The top and bottom heating units cook sandwiches quickly and evenly, compressing and searing the bread to create distinctive ridges. Floating hinges accommodate thick-sliced breads and rolls, as well as meats and vegetables.

We tested dozens of different sandwiches, using all sorts of flavorful breads and fillings. Smoked chicken and fontina cheese layered with fresh spinach, red onion, yellow bell pepper, and plum tomatoes on a crusty Italian ciabatta roll is one of our favorites. You'll find all the ingredients in the supermarket deli and produce section--just choose any combination your family enjoys.

Find a Good Panini Press
Panini presses are available in a wide range of prices (from $40 to $400 or more), but you don't need to pay a fortune for a good one. Look for them in specialty stores and discount department stores that carry cookware. A Krups Panini Press, shown above, sells for around $80 (www.williams-sonoma.com). For a quick grab-and-go breakfast, stack slices of Colby-Jack cheese, Granny Smith apple, and cooked bacon on whole grain bread. Assemble sandwiches the night before, and store in zip-top plastic bags; they'll be ready to grill first thing in the morning.

Sandwich Grilling Tips and Tidbits
If you don't have a panini press, place the sandwiches in a hot skillet and press with a smaller heavy pan or clean brick wrapped in aluminum foil. Cook until the bread is golden brown; then turn and continue to cook until the second side is golden brown and the cheese is melted.

For a super-crisp crust, lightly coat bread with vegetable cooking spray or brush with a mixture of melted butter and olive oil before grilling.

Grill sandwiches over medium to low heat rather than high so the bread doesn't burn before the cheese melts.

Oval-shaped plum tomatoes are a flavorful choice for the winter months, and their meaty texture holds up well when heated. Try them in a sandwich with fresh mozzarella and basil or cool-weather greens such as spinach and arugula.

For easy entertaining, select an assortment of colorful containers and trays, and set up a sandwich bar, letting guests come up with their own creative combinations. Use decorative place card holders to identify the different ingredients.

Pantry items such as roasted red bell peppers, green chiles, artichoke hearts, and olives are all delicious additions to grilled sandwiches. Try a bold and sassy salad dressing in place of mayonnaise. Experiment with flavored mustards and pestos, or drizzle on some spicy peanut sauce. Layer on a chutney-cheese spread or a chunky homemade salsa--the possibilities are endless.