Panini with oven-roasted grapes–yes, grapes

Yield: One sandwich; recipe can be increased as you wish to yield whatever number of panini sandwiches that you would like

Concentrating their flavor by roasting them in a hot oven, grapes are a welcome addition to sandwiches, salads and make a great side to roasted meats such as pork, duck or turkey. Using a combination of green and red or black skinned varieties, each with its particular flavor profile, is a good idea here. I like to combine seedless black, green and red in equal parts for the most interesting results. A bit of salt to offset the fruits’ natural sweetness and a drizzle of fruity fragrant olive oil and slightly pungent balsamic vinegar turn an everyday fruit into something special and memorable. But the main ingredient is the oven in which the fruit is caramelized, shaken to brown evenly from time to time during the short roasting. When layered in a panini-style sandwich made from good thinly sliced ham and creamy goat cheese, these roasted fruits are deliciously succulent. And if you choose to use the best raisin bread you can find as the base for the grilled sandwich, so much the better, offering grapes in two forms, each reinforcing the pleasure of the other.

For the Oven Roasted Grapes:

Makes enough for 8 sandwiches (if you’re only using part of these, simply refrigerate, covered, and they will keep well for a few days)

1 lb. mixed color seedless grapes
3 T. Good fruity olive oil to lightly coat the grapes
1/2 t. (or more to taste) sea salt
4 T. Brown sugar
2 T. Balsamic vinegar
2 T. Fresh rosemary, finely chopped (optional)

Preheat oven to 500 degrees F.
In a bowl, lightly coat the grapes with the oil and sea salt. Place on a heavy baking sheet.
Place the pan into the oven midway up from the bottom of the oven. After about 5 minutes, carefully shake the pan to move the grapes around in order to brown them evenly. Remove the pan from the oven and scatter some brown sugar evenly over the grapes. Shake pan again, drizzle vinegar over the grapes and scatter the rosemary, if using, and return the pan to the oven for an additional 5 minutes or until the grapes are evenly caramelized but not burnt. These may be made in advance and kept, refrigerated, in a covered container, for use as desired in salads, on sandwiches, as a condiment for roasted meats or whatever other idea you come up with.)

This isn’t a recipe per se but rather an idea that you can tailor to your own tastes and pantry. Here are the rough amounts that I use to produce a memorable sandwich, perfect for a quick lunch or a light supper when served with a salad and a glass of off-dry Riesling or Viognier.

For one sandwich:

2 slices of the best quality raisin bread you can find (if you wish to make it yourself, consult one of Peter Reinhart’s wonderful books about bread baking–his Multipurpose Sweet Dough from Crust and Crumb (Tenspeed Press, 1998)is a good place to start–for a richer tasting bread, I amended the recipe to include two large eggs and used regular milk instead of the buttermilk that the recipe calls for, for an excellent result)

2 t. (approx.) Dijon mustard
2 ounces good quality ham, thinly sliced (Paris style ham or honey baked would work well here)
2 ounces creamy goat cheese (or other cheese of your choice; Spanish sheep’s milk cheeses are delicious here)
8 Oven Roasted Grapes (See recipe above)
1 T. Melted butter or olive oil to brush on both sides of the sandwich before grilling or pan sauteeing

Assemble the sandwich as follows:

Spread one side of each slice of bread lightly with the mustard. Place ham, cheese and Oven Roasted Grapes in that order onto the bottom slice of bread. Top with the other slice of bread. Compress the sandwich and then brush both sides with the melted butter or olive oil. Heat a heavy skillet or panini press and cook the sandwich until the bread is golden brown. If using a skillet, turn the sandwich to cook the other side. Cut and serve immediately. The cheese should be melted but not completely oozing out of the bread.

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