Sometimes when my family discusses days of yore, we’ll bring up how fitting it was that my brother’s first word was “no,” considering he was a disobedient devil in school and a terror at home (for about 22 straight years). My first word? “Cheese,” which they also consider apropos due to my childhood affinity for Land O’ Lakes white American (sliced thin) and my relative hatred for anything but.
My high school English teacher did a deserted island exercise once and asked us what one food we would pick. My answer? Cheese. “Do you have any idea what a steady diet of cheese would do to your innards?” she asked. Yup. Don’t care.
So given my love for cheese, it’s a bit surprising how little I actually know about it. I’ve got a pretty good handle on American, cheddar and mozzarella, but I’ve only just begun branching out to more “exotic” cheeses. Sadly, this experience with the eggplant and asiago panini may have set me back a bit in that venture.
A word of advice: If you’re using an ingredient you’ve never tasted before — especially one that’s going to be a major, melted component of your dish — try it first. I foolishly thought, “I like Panera’s Asiago bread. There’s no way putting a big hunk of this smelly cheese on an otherwise awesome sandwich would ruin my dinner!” Wrong-o. (And I thought my cost-saving use of a kaiser roll instead of legit panini-making bread would be the make-or-break of the meal. That actually turned out to be the best part.)
If you’re a fan of the strong-tasting Asiago, the dish is simple: Cook one eggplant (sliced and seasoned with salt and pepper) with a little bit of olive oil in a pan for about 6 minutes. Place on bread. Cover with slice of Asiago. Add roasted red peppers if desired. Grill in panini press or cook on frying pan as grilled cheese.
Total time? 15 minutes.
Cost? More expensive than I wanted: $5.49 Asiago wedge, 69¢ roll, $1.29 eggplant
Overall success relative to expectations? 2 out of 10. Even after I scraped the melted Asiago off the sandwich, my meal was inedible. And thank God I ended up with a whole wedge of cheese I absolutely hate. Sigh. Really, though, I can’t get mad about this; it’s my own fault for not trying the cheese beforehand. Next time, it’ll be mozzarella for sure.