Meatless Monday: Grilled Vegetable Panini With Herbed Feta Spread
When I stopped eating meat about 15 years ago, I stopped eating sandwiches. Not on purpose, really, but it seemed that most were pretty meat-heavy -- Italian mixes and Reubens and French dips and such. If I wanted a meatless sandwich, it seemed like the only option was grilled cheese. My first vegetable sandwich happened accidentally, at the dinner table when I was in middle school. My family was eating beef of some sort and I had, on my plate, the vegetarian offerings from that meal: broccoli and bread. So naturally, I made that into a sandwich. Soon I requested broccoli sandwiches at every meal.
I like to think I've evolved since then, and so have sandwiches. Vegetable sandwiches are no longer a novelty, but a regular item on restaurant and deli menus, enjoyed even by meat-eaters. Vegetables are pickled, roasted, grilled or raw and thinly sliced, layered with hummus, goat cheese, fried egg or fresh mozzarella, topped with a vinaigrette, a lemony dressing, or nothing at all; the juices from the vegetables soaking into and flavoring the bread. Kelsey Nixon's Grilled Vegetable Panini is one such sandwich -- it combines grilled vegetables (Kelsey calls for mushrooms, peppers, zucchini and yellow squash, but you can use whatever you like. Add asparagus, Brussels sprouts, roasted butternut squash or eggplant if that's what you have on-hand), with a creamy herbed feta spread on ciabatta, pressed in a panini maker or between two skillets until it's warmed through and the flavors of the grilled vegetables meld with the cheese forming a dressing -- no mayo needed here.
Heat a grill pan over medium-high heat. In a large bowl, combine the mushroom, bell peppers, yellow squash and zucchini. Drizzle with the oil, season with salt and pepper and toss to coat. Place the vegetables on the hot pan and grill until tender and lightly browned; use tongs to flip them once or twice during cooking. Transfer the vegetables to a plate.
Reduce the heat to medium. Spread one side of half the ciabatta pieces with Herbed Feta Spread and top each with one-fourth of the grilled vegetables and 1 lettuce leaf. Cover with the remaining pieces of ciabatta and brush the outsides of the sandwiches with oil. Place on the pan and grill, turning once, until the bread is browned and crisp and the cheese and vegetables are heated through, 8 to 10 minutes. If desired, place a cast-iron skillet on top of the sandwiches to press them while grilling. Serve warm.
In a small bowl, combine the feta, cream cheese, sour cream, basil, chives and lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper and mix until blended. Cover and refrigerate until using.