5K Race and Celebratory Grilled Cheese

Yesterday was a gloomy, wet, chilly, miserable day. But, my sister and I were up bright and early and making our way downtown to the Goodlife Fitness 5K run. Starting at Hoskin Ave, and then along the West side of Queen’s Park, we made our way south to University Avenue, turning North at Wellington Street, and headed back up University Avenue and around via the East side of Queens Park to the finish line opposite Hart House.

It was a really nice course. The journey back from Wellington St. was a very minor uphill trip, which was a nice challenge. I felt great throughout, despite the rain and wind, and it was a lot of fun!

For dinner last night, we celebrated our success at the run with Grilled Panini’s with Manchego Pesto, Artichoke and Sundried Tomato on homemade Garlic-Rosemary Focaccia Bread.

Inspiration for this wonderful creation came from Bean Around the World in Victoria, BC, where I used to work. We served a selection of panini sandwiches there, using the focaccia bread from a local bakery called Cascadia. My absolute favourite was the artichoke, pesto and sundried tomato grilled panini with melted cheese. It’s serious the best grilled cheese I’ve ever had. So, I recreated it at home last night. The best part is that the actual recipe for the Cascadia focaccia bread is in the Rebar Modern Food Cookbook, which I own. The only difference between my replication and the real Bean Around the World panini, is that I made mine with fresh, homemade pesto (recipe below) and provolone, rather than Swiss cheese.

I did all the prep for the sandwiches the day before, which included making the pesto and baking the focaccia bread. So, it was really quick and easy to throw together last night.

As I mentioned above, I followed the recipe for the Cascadia focaccia bread in the Rebar Modern Food Cookbook. It was actually very simple. It’s a good idea to make it a day ahead, though, because fresh from the oven it’s very difficult to cut without tearing.

It required three rising times. Once immediately after kneading the dough. A second time after punching it down. And a final time once the dough has been spread into the baking dish and topped with garlic, rosemary, salt and pepper. It bakes for 20 minutes, and fills the house with a tempting, mouth-watering aroma.

After letting it cool completely, I cut the loaf into two halves and sealed them each in ziploc bags. Saving one half for the panini’s, I froze the other for later use. Overnight, the focaccia for the panini firmed up a bit, making for much easier slicing. I cut the bread through the centre, spread the manchego pesto on the bottom half, sprinkled it with sundried tomato pieces, and sliced marinated artichoke hearts. Then I covered the whole thing with a layer of provolone cheese, and topped it with the top half of the focaccia.

The half-loaf made three perfect panini’s. I grilled them on medium high on a panini press for about 5-6 minutes, until the cheese was oozing out the sides.

Oh my gosh, I can’t even describe how ridiculous these are. Best. Thing. Ever. Along with the panini’s, my sister threw together a quick spinach salad with avocado, pistachios, dried cranberries and a simple olive oil, apple-cider vinegar and balsamic vinegar dressing, with a pinch of salt and pepper.

It was a really really great dinner, to say the least.

Manchego Pesto

Makes about 1 cup

1 large bunch fresh basil leaves (about 3 cups)
1/4 cup pine nuts
1 large or 2 medium cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup grated manchego cheese
pinch salt
about 1/2 cup olive oil

In a food processor, add the basil, garlic and pine nuts. Pulse until thoroughly minced and incorporated. Add the salt and cheese. Proccess to combine. With the processor running on a low speed, begin slowly incorporating the olive oil. Add as much or as little as you’d like, creating a spreadable consistency. Voila! Store in the refridgerator for up to 1 week.

Pesto, Artichoke and Sundried Tomato Grilled Cheese

Makes 6 sandwiches

1 10X15in panini loaf, sliced horizontally through the centre
3/4 – 1 cup manchego pesto
heaping 1/4 cup sliced sundried tomatoes
3/4 – 1 cup sliced marinated artichoke hearts
250g sliced provolone cheese

Preheat a panini press to medium-high. Spread the pesto onto the bottom half of the focaccia loaf. Sprikle with the sundried tomato pieces, then the marinated artichoke hearts, making sure to distribute all of the ingredients evenly over the entire thing. Finish with a final layering of the cheese, then place the other half of the loaf on top. Cut into 6 equal-sized sandwiches. Lightly coat the panini press with vegetable spray. Grill each panini for 5-6 minutes, until the cheese is thoroughly melted, rotating once to create nice grill marks. Enjoy!