My crunchy three cheese and veggie panino: “Blame” it on the celery sticks!

Yes, I want texture – and I’m looking at you, celery stick. Why did you have to make my three cheese panino so crunchy and delicious? Firm and perfumed, with an emerald appearance and a lovely bite, you are the perfect addition to lunches in a hurry – and you are here to stay 🙂

We’ve always been celery root fans – but sticks? Not really. My mom and aunt never used the sticks in their cooking, and eating them raw was unheard of. They would add shredded celery root to soups and stews and would throw away the stalks – or, in the best case scenario, they would use the stalks as a “filler” when canning stuffed peppers or cabbage.

Since coming to this country I have learned there’s more to celery sticks than meets the eye, and my appreciation of them has increased. My mom used a few sliced sticks in a soup just before she left for Europe: I simply couldn’t believe how much the flavor of the soup had been enhanced! Still in awe, I decided to use celery sticks in a panino. The recipe below is the result of these recent “celery experiments.” 
I wanted a cheese-packed panino, and my first choices were sliced provolone and ovolini – some of my favorite cheeses ever, and always on hand in my fridge. As for the third cheese, one variety caught my eye during my recent trip to the grocery store: Boar’s Head Italian style herb coated mozzarella. I had never used it before, but its description – which stated that the cheese had been “coated with an aromatic blend of basil, oregano, rosemary, bell pepper and garlic” – made it sound like an excellent pick for my panino. And indeed it was!

Ingredients

2 slices sunflower bread

2 slices Boar’s Head Italian style herb coated mozzarella

3 ovolini, patted dry

3 slices provolone

1 medium eggplant, washed and patted dry

2-3 celery sticks, about 3in long

2 medium eggs

1 cup flour

1 cup breadcrumbs

1/2 cup vegetable oil (for frying)

1 tbsp mustard

Salt and pepper (to taste)

Cut the eggplant into rounds about 1/2in thick. Liberally sprinkle salt on top of the rounds and let them “rest” for about half an hour. During this time, you will see the eggplant start to “sweat,” which is nothing to be worried about – on the contrary: it means the salt is “working its magic” to eliminate the bitterness from the eggplant.

After half an hour, carefully pat dry the eggplant to get rid of the bitter water-like particles.

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Heat the oil in a pan.

Beat the eggs in a small bowl along with a sprinkle of ground pepper. One by one, dredge the eggplant rounds in flour, then in the beaten eggs, and finally in the breadcrumbs. Put the coated rounds in the pan and fry over a medium heat for about 5-10 minutes or until golden brown, turning them over half-way through cooking.

When they are done, take the rounds out of the pan and put them on a paper towel to get rid of the excess oil.

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Using a knife, spread half of the mustard on the inside of the slice of bread which will make up the bottom of the panino. Put the Italian style herb coated mozzarella on top of the bread, then add one slice of eggplant. Tear off the ovolini by hand, then place them on top of the eggplant. Add the celery sticks. Finish off with the provolone and with the other slice of bread, whose inside has been spread with the remaining mustard.

Put the panino on the preheated grill to cook for about 30 seconds or until the bread is golden-brown and there are nice grill marks all over it.

This is how the process looks like:

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Cut the panino in half and serve it with extra slices of eggplant on the side.

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This panino, light, crunchy and delicious served hot from the grill, has turned us into big celery stick fans. I will continue to use celery to create various panini recipes – and I will keep you posted on my experiments 🙂


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