Panini a meal in a flash

A crisp crust enclosing warm, tasty fillings with melted cheese — no wonder paninis have become so popular.

Here’s a quick dinner for this busy time of year. The sandwich is filled with low-sodium ham from the deli, roasted red peppers, fresh basil and shredded sharp Cheddar.

If you do not have a panini press, I have given directions for making the sandwich in a saute pan.

Paninis are typically made with ciabatta, an Italian bread named for its slipper-like shape. You can use a large baguette, Italian sub roll or focaccia instead.

Complete the meal with a salad made by tossing four cups ready-to-eat Italian-style salad greens with a cup of torn, fresh arugula and 2 tablespoons reduced-fat vinaigrette.

Cook the paninis over medium-low heat so the insides will warm and the crust will be crisp and golden, not black.

Ham and cheese panini

1 small ciabatta (about 6 ounces)

Olive oil spray

2 medium garlic cloves, crushed

6 ounces sliced low-sodium ham

1/2 cup sliced, drained, canned roasted red peppers

1/2 cup reduced-fat sharp Cheddar cheese

Several fresh basil leaves

Cut two 2 1/2-inch pieces from the bread. Slice them open horizontally. Spray olive oil on the top halves and sprinkle garlic over the oil. Place ham on the bottom halves. Place roasted red pepper over the ham. Sprinkle cheese over the red pepper and top with 5 or 6 basil leaves. Cover with the top halves.

Heat a nonstick skillet large enough to hold both paninis, over medium-low heat and spray with olive oil. Add the paninis and press down with a lid. Saute 3 minutes. Turn over and press with a lid. Saute another 3 minutes.

Makes 2 servings.

Per serving: 492 calories (35 percent from fat), 19.1 g fat (8.4 g saturated, 7.9 g monounsaturated), 75 mg cholesterol, 32.7 g protein, 46.2 g carbohydrates, 1.8 g fiber, 1,428 mg sodium.

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