When I lived in the UK I used to be an avid watcher of cooking shows – Ready Steady Cook, MasterChef, Nigella Express, Saturday Kitchen, and many others. It was one of these shows that introduced me to a strangely looking vegetable I’d never seen before: the artichoke. I read more about this veggie and was not sure it was worth the bother, so for years I steered clear of artichokes, intimidated by their appearance and by the supposedly complicated preparation techniques involved. Fortunately, in time I have learned to control my “fear” of artichokes, and nowadays I often use marinated artichoke hearts to make panini.
1 small whole wheat French bread
1 small jar (6.5oz) marinated artichoke hearts
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
1 cup sour cream
1/4lb smoked ham
Pat dry the the artichoke hearts with a paper towel (I normally use about 2/3 of the jar, but you can use more if you want). Chop them finely and mix them with sour cream and shredded mozzarella cheese. Add salt and pepper to taste. This is how it looks like at the end of the first preparation stage:
Cut the bread in half and scoop out the middle to make room for the artichoke and sour cream mixture. Spread the mixture all over the top and bottom of the bread (In my experience the leftover artichoke and sour cream mixture can be safely stored in the refrigerator for up to a week). Add a layer of smoked ham. I think you can use smoked bacon too – what is important is to have a layer of smokiness to cut through the mellow flavors of the cheese and the sour cream, and to give the dish a certain meatiness, extra texture, and a distinct personality. Put a few salad leaves on top of the ham, then add another layer of smoked ham, and finish off with the bread. Grill the panino for 3 minutes at 400F.
You can add more veggies (such as peppers or tomatoes) in-between the layers of smoked ham, or you can take out the ham completely and replace it with sautéed portobello mushrooms if you’re a vegetarian. The abundance of summer produce gives us plenty of options, and this is one of the reasons I love summer so much.