In my experience, eating dinner is the last thing you want to do when you get home late, on a freezing cold night. You just want to shower and cuddle up under the blanket, hoping that spring would be upon you soon (if only this were true!). Still, on this cold Chicago weather, what can be more enticing than a hot panino, oozing cheesy goodness, nutritious, and quick to prepare? I think panini are the perfect quick comfort food: You can make a healthy meal out of only a few ingredients in very little time. A fresh panino and a hot cup of cocoa – that’s my new idea of dinner bliss.
I’ve been eating panini for dinner this past week, and I’m feeling very proud of myself for no longer skipping meals. Most of the times, since I had the ingredients readily available, I opted for a roast chicken and sour cream panino. This is a panino I first made two years ago, when we had just started to explore our new home city, Chicago. We went out to a restaurant in our neighborhood and tasted one of the best chicken sandwiches we’d ever had. The restaurant has since closed, but the legend lives on. I tried to replicate the sophisticated mix of flavors in that chicken sandwich, and I hope I got it right. The original sandwich had roast peppers in it; my contribution was to replace them with marinated peppadew peppers.
I first tasted peppadew peppers at a food show I attended when I lived in the UK. I was taken by their unusual flavor, which is a mix of sweetness and heat. At first, you get an assertive taste of sweetness, which to me was surprising the first time I tried these peppers, since I expected them to be on the savory side. And then, when you thought there was nothing else to discover, you get a hint of heat, whose subdued sophistication leaves you wanting more. That “taste test” back in the UK made me a peppadew fan forever. I don’t have a high tolerance for spiciness, so their subtle heat is just about right for me – plus, their vibrant color and elegant size make them look great on the plate.
We often use peppadew peppers as an accompaniment to roast chicken, so using them together in a panino looked like the natural step to take. I’ve always used the “mild” version of these peppers, but there is also a “hot” version that you can try.
1 cup shredded roast chicken (we like to use the chicken shredded for extra texture, but you can cut it finely if you like)
1 cup sour cream
1/4 lb sliced Colby Jack cheese
A handful of peppadew peppers
1/2 small cucumber, sliced
1/4 French bread
Salt and pepper (to taste)
Preheat the grill to 400F.
Mix the shredded chicken with the sour cream and add salt and pepper to taste. Cut the bread in half lengthwise. Spread both halves with a layer of the chicken and sour cream mixture, making sure there’s more on the bottom half than on the top half. Put the leftover mixture in the fridge to use another time. Place a few peppadew peppers on the bottom half of the panino. Put some of the sliced cheese on top of the peppers, then add another layer of peppadew. Add the sliced cucumber, and finish off with another layer of sliced cheese. Grill the panino for 3 minutes.
The sliced cucumber gives the panino a much-needed dimension of crunchiness, while the peppadew peppers provide a gentle spicy kick which prevents the dish from being one-dimensional. I think I am going to make a few of these panini right after Thanksgiving and use leftover turkey instead of chicken.
I really like this combination of flavors – and I hope you’ll like it too.