Could it possibly get any easier than sandwiches? Probably not. Simple, fast and easy to consume, sandwiches are tailor-made for dinner after a long day.
This panini inspiration comes courtesy of chef and cookbook writer Deborah Madison and her husband, Patrick McFarlin, in their book "What We Eat When We Eat Alone." Sandwiches, simple to make and adaptable to almost any ingredients you have on hand, are a perfect choice whether you're feeding the family or flying solo. This version -- ciabatta bread piled with mustard greens, cheese and roasted red peppers, then cooked in a panini maker or skillet -- is one of McFarlin's favorites.
Or how about grilled cheese? For its take on the classic, Lucques starts with a gentle, buttery Cantal, a mild semi-firm cheese with a fantastic creamy consistency when melted. Caramelized shallots punctuated with a little fresh thyme add another dimension. Put all that between two crisp slices of country-style bread and you're set.
Or top it with a fried egg, with a classic croque-madame. La Dijonaise's take on this classic French comfort food sandwich is rich béchamel sauce and ham between two slices of pullman bread, topped with cheese that's melted to gooey perfection. On top of that goes a fried egg (this is what distinguishes the "madame" from the "monsieur"). Yes, it's unapologetic goodness on a plate.
GREEN PANINI WITH ROASTED PEPPERS AND GRUYERE CHEESE
Total time: 25 minutes
Note: Adapted from "What We Eat When We Eat Alone" by Deborah Madison and Patrick McFarlin. It is one of McFarlin's favorites. This recipe makes more mustard greens than are used in the sandwich.
1 bunch mustard greens, stemmed and washed but not dried
1/2 cup water
Salt and pepper
1 garlic clove, pressed or minced
Red pepper flakes, a few pinches or to taste
Pepper sauce or red wine vinegar, to taste
2 pieces ciabatta, or your favorite rustic bread
Grated Gruyère or fontina cheese
Roasted bell pepper cut into wide strips
1. Put the mustard greens in a pot over high heat with the water that clings to the leaves plus one-half cup. Sprinkle with one-half teaspoon salt, pepper to taste, garlic and the pepper flakes and cover. After the leaves have collapsed, reduce the heat to medium and cook until they're tender when you taste one, about 7 minutes. Drain, then squeeze the excess water out of the greens. Put them in a bowl and season with additional salt, if needed, and pepper sauce or vinegar to taste.
2. Slather the outside of the bread with olive oil. Cover one slice of the bread (the dry side) with cheese, pile on half or one-third of the greens, and add the pepper strips. Spread the top slice with Dijon mustard, then cover.
3. Cook in your panini maker or in a skillet until the bread is crispy and the cheese melts. When a wave of melted cheese hits the hot surface, there's a bonus tang, but don't let it burn. Slice it diagonally; it's easier to eat that way and it looks jaunty too.
Each sandwich: 611 calories; 20 grams protein; 73 grams carbohydrates; 9 grams fiber; 27 grams fat; 6 grams saturated fat; 16 mg. cholesterol; 1,447 mg. sodium.
LUCQUES' GRILLED CHEESE WITH SHALLOTS
Total time: About 30 minutes
Servings: 1 or 2
Note: From chef-owner Suzanne Goin. She recommends serving the sandwich with an arugula salad dressed with lemon juice and best-quality olive oil.
2 large shallots
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
1/2 teaspoon thyme leaves
2 slices country white bread, sliced 1/2 -inch thick
5 ounces Cantal cheese, sliced 1/8-inch thick
1. Cut the shallots in half lengthwise and peel them. Place the shallots cut-side down. Slice lengthwise into about one-eighth-inch wedges. In a small sauté pan, melt 1 tablespoon of the butter over medium heat. Add the shallots and thyme and season lightly with salt and pepper. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook gently, stirring often until the shallots are caramelized, about 10 to 15 minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside.
2. Heat a cast iron or heavy-bottomed sauté pan over medium heat. Add the remaining butter and swirl in the pan until it is melted. Place the two slices of bread in the pan and toast for a minute or two until just beginning to color. Divide the cheese evenly between the two pieces and top with the shallots.
3. Place the pan in the oven and cook 5 to 6 minutes until the cheese is melted and the bread is golden and crispy. Remove to a cutting board and carefully assemble the sandwich, placing together the two slices of bread. Cut in half on the diagonal and serve immediately.
Each of 2 servings: 705 calories; 26 grams protein; 53 grams carbohydrates; 3 grams fiber; 43 grams fat; 26 grams saturated fat; 120 mg. cholesterol; 1,026 mg. sodium.
Total time: 45 minutes, plus cooling time for the béchamel
Note: Adapted from La Dijonaise Café et Boulangerie in Culver City. The restaurant uses bread from a local bakery and recommends pullman-type bread for the sandwiches.
2 cups milk
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter
1/3 cup plus 1 1/2 tablespoons flour
Salt and pepper
1. In a medium, heavy-bottom saucepan, heat the milk over medium heat just until bubbles appear around the edge. Reduce the heat and keep the milk warm over very low heat.
2. Meanwhile, in a large, heavy-bottom saucepan, melt the butter over low heat. When it bubbles, whisk in the flour and continue to cook until the mixture forms a golden roux, 3 to 4 minutes.
3. Whisking constantly, add the warm milk in a steady stream. Bring the mixture to a gentle simmer and continue to whisk until the sauce thickens, about 10 minutes. Season to taste with one-half teaspoon salt and a few grinds of black pepper, along with the nutmeg, or to taste. Remove from heat and set aside until cooled. This makes about 2 cups sauce.
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter
12 slices sandwich bread
12 slices ham
Prepared béchamel sauce
6 slices Swiss cheese, diced
2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
Salt and pepper
6 eggs, fried sunny-side up
1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees.
2. Butter 6 slices of bread. Top each slice of bread with 2 slices of ham, then divide the béchamel sauce evenly between the sandwiches, spreading it over the ham. Top each of the sandwiches with a second slice of bread.
3. In a small bowl, toss together the diced Swiss cheese and the mozzarella. Season the mixture with one-fourth teaspoon salt and a few grinds of pepper, or to taste.
4. Divide the cheese mixture evenly between the sandwiches, mounding it on top of each sandwich.
5. Place the sandwiches on a baking sheet and bake until the cheese is melted, 5 to 8 minutes, depending on the oven. This may need to be done in more than one batch.
6. Top each sandwich with a fried egg and serve immediately.
Each sandwich: 699 calories; 38 grams protein; 40 grams carbohydrates; 1 gram fiber; 43 grams fat; 23 grams saturated fat; 334 mg. cholesterol; 8 grams sugar; 1,660 mg. sodium.