As a child of the South, pimento cheese sandwiches were a welcome staple in our house. Hey, I was seven years old – what did I know about processed food and neon orange dye? Nothing. Ah, the halcyon days before organic, non-GMO foods were an alternative to the primary food supply. At any rate, the whimsy of pimento cheese spread on soft white bread (crusts cut off, please) still brings a smile to my face and a zesty zing to my taste buds. I haven’t eaten one in…wow, probably twenty years.
But, the other day I accidentally made a pimento cheese sandwich. How does one accidentally make a food, you’re probably asking? Well, I was making Wegman’s Spicy Porchetta Panini, a delicious sandwich in heavy rotation in my house, when I discovered that we were out of one of the main ingredients in the recipe. With three hungry boys and one brawny Marine waiting for lunch, I quickly improvised by making the same recipe sans sliced smoked turkey breast (I substituted turkey for porchetta because we are not big pork eaters) and arugula.
When I taste-tested my creation, it reminded me of the aforementioned, long forgotten childhood snack, except better and much more refined. It occurred to me that the processed goop of cheesy-goodness was probably meant to cheaply and conveniently approximate what was once a healthy meal. Upon further reading, I discovered that the actual pimento cheese sandwich is actually quite elegant.
These directions are taken straight from the Wegman’s page, sans directives for porchetta* and arugula:
1. Combine hot pepper spread and mayo in small bowl. Evenly spread each slice of bread with this mayo mixture.
2. Top slices of bread with 1 slice of cheese. Close sandwich, pressing down lightly.
3. Heat 2 teaspoons olive oil in large skillet on medium until oil shimmers lightly.
4. Add paninis to the pan and press with spatula to flatten. Turn over when bottom slices turn golden brown, about 4 minutes.
5. Cook another 3-4 minutes, pressing occasionally with spatula to flatten, until second sides are golden brown.
6. Cut into triangles and serve immediately. If serving as a meal, accompany with a fresh salad dressed with oil and vinegar on the side.
My wine industry pal suggests pairing this elegant yet spicy panini with Dr. Pauly-Bergweiler Wehlener Sonnenuhr Spatlese 2009 or Decoy 2011 Sauvignon Blanc to elevate this regional Southern favorite to a refined luncheon sure to impress foodie friends.