For many years while I was growing up, my whole family ate lunch together almost every day. My mother homeschooled my sister and I, and my father worked from home, so it seemed the most natural thing to do. Making the lunch was one of my daily chores, a fairly hum-drum one—until we got a panini press.
O, the panini.
Suddenly, making the lunch became a major creative outlet, a daily challenge to outdo myself. What could I make using the odd bits of cheese and leftover vegetables we had in the fridge? There were many failures: strange combinations, odd textures, the wrong sort of cheese. But there were also many successes. And the greatest of these triumphs has come to be known as the Happy Hobbit.
It began as a bit of a joke. I was just emerging from my picky period, and had started to like mushrooms. Apparently I felt some need to make up for lost time, because I suddenly started to devour any sort of mushroom prepared any sort of way any chance I got. My dad started to joke that I was turning into a hobbit, willing to do just about anything for mushrooms. When I presented the family with the first iteration of this panini, he exclaimed, “Now, Lizzy, you must be one happy hobbit!”
I rarely make panini anymore, but when I do, I’ll most often turn to this one. And, if you are what you eat, yes, I am a happy hobbit.
Happy Hobbit Sandwich
- 1 portabella mushroom
- 1-2 T olive oil
- 4-6 slices of good bread
- dijon mustars
- 6-12 slices of Gruyere cheese (cheddar also works, as does Emmenthaler or other kinds of Swiss, but try Gruyere first)
- salt and pepper
Slice the mushroom cap into 1/4-inch slices, holding the knife on a diagonal so that your slices have as much surface area as possible. Heat up a grill, whether an electric one or a grill pan. Brush the mushroom slices on both sides with olive oil and lay them in the pan. Grill until they soften and are starting to brown, about 3 minutes per side.
Meanwhile, assemble the rest of the sandwiches: spread one half of each sandwich with a little bit of Dijon mustard. Cover the other half with a single layer of thinly sliced Gruyere. When the mushrooms are cooked, fit them into the sandwich in a single layer. Normally I put them on the cheese half because it makes closing the sandwich easier, but in the picture I’ve put them on the mustard half so that you can admire both the cheese and the mushroom. Season the mushroom with salt and pepper—any leftover slices are termed “nibblies” and are the cook’s secret treat. Close the sandwiches and grill them for 3-5 minutes, until the outsides become crisp and the insides are hot and melty.
Serve with fruit or a green salad.