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Sunday, July 24, 2011

Lunch on the Terrace in Provence

They take eating outside seriously in the South of France. The house we rented in Provence, like most in the region, included a terrace. Right off the living room and the bedrooms was a beautifully stoned area covered by an overhead arbor of trailing wisteria. It was an irresistibly inviting spot to read, snooze, or enjoy a meal. Our family loved snacking and lunching at the round metal table surrounded by those quintessential French folding chairs. Many afternoons we spread tapenade on crusty baguette slices, tried different cheeses, and sipped rosé, and midday we often savored lunch outdoors. 

One of the easiest déjeuners I prepared included Goat Cheese and Radish Panini. I spread slices of good peasant bread with creamy chèvre scented with lemon, and then added a layer of paper-thin radish slices, and a mound of arugula. There was no panini machine in our kitchen so I simply cooked the sandwiches in a heavy skillet coated with olive oil until the cheese melted and the bread was lightly browned and crisp.  Olives, French pickles, and chips made simple garnishes.

These Provencal panini are just as good on this side of the Atlantic. I’ve made them twice since returning home. The only thing missing was the terrace!

Goat Cheese, Radish, and Arugula Panini

5 ounces creamy goat cheese, at room temperature
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
8 slices good quality peasant bread, preferably one with some whole wheat in it
5 to 6 medium radishes, thinly sliced
Fleur de sel, optional
A bunch of arugula or watercress
Olive oil

Using a spoon, mix the goat cheese and the lemon zest together in a medium bowl until  blended. (The goat cheese mixture can be prepared a day ahead; cover and refrigerate. Bring to room temperature before using.)

Place 4 bread slices on a work surface. Using half of the goat cheese, spread each one with some cheese. Top with a layer of radishes, and if desired, sprinkle radishes with  a little fleur de sel. Mound each slice with some arugula. Spread the remaining goat cheese on the remaining 4 slices. Place these slices, cheese sides down, over the slices with the radishes and the arugula. Press firmly so that the panini hold together. Brush the outsides of the panini generously with oil.

If you have a panini machine, cook the sandwiches, following the manufacturer’s directions. Otherwise, lightly brush a stovetop grill pan with oil and place over medium high heat until very hot. Place enough sandwiches on the grill to fit comfortably in a single layer. Grill them, pressing down firmly with a metal spatula to compress the sandwiches until the undersides are golden brown, about 2 minutes. Turn and cook until other sides are golden brown, about 2 minutes more. Remove panini, cover loosely with foil, and set aside. Continue in the same way, brushing pan with additional olive oil if necessary, until all the sandwiches are cooked. (If you do not have a grill pan, use a large, heavy skillet and coat it with a thin layer of olive oil. Heat until oil is very hot, then sauté sandwiches about 2 minutes per side, adding more oil if needed.)

Cut sandwiches on the diagonal and serve, if desired, garnished with some additional arugula and sliced radishes, and chips. Makes 4 panini.

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