Panini sandwiches with sesame smashed sweet potatoes

On a summer night not too long ago, my husband and I hosted a couple friends for an impromptu and casual dinner.  (Most dinners here are pretty casual, since they’re prepared and served in our 500sf Brooklyn apartment and its proportionately tiny kitchen.)  I decided to spare our guests a hot oven on a hot night, and chose a simple menu of panini sandwiches with sesame mashed sweet potatoes and (convection oven) roasted asparagus.

I’m a pretty die hard fan of panini sandwiches- they combine many of my edible favorites, namely, cheese, molten cheese, clever ingredient fusions, and, did I mention cheese?  Molten cheese?  I often let my creative juices flow while riding my bike home from work, and this evening proved no different.  With some brie, Vermont cheddar, and half a vidalia onion in the fridge, the picture began to emerge.  I picked up a few more ingredients and started to build the sandwiches.  I layered  the brie and cheddar, with caramelized onion, a thinly sliced granny smith apple and some chopped walnuts that I toasted with a healthy sprinkling of salt in the convection oven.  I panini’fied the sandwiches using my old standby, the George Foreman Grill (pretty much my only use for the Foreman as a vegetarian, well pescatarian, but a damn good one) until they were sufficiently crispy and gooey.  I borrowed the sweet potato recipe from one of my favorite cookbooks, America’s Test Kitchen’s Perfect Vegetables, and simply cooked up some peeled, sliced sweet potatoes with butter, cream and a little bit of sesame oil until tender, then mashed them with toasted sesame seeds, tahini and sliced scallions.  I tossed the asparagus spears with olive oil, lots of salt and pepper, and roasted them in the convection oven until sizzling, tender and lightly caramelized.

The sandwiches were a good mix of savory and sweet, thought I think next time I’ll skip the brie and add some smoked cheddar to give them the vegetarian’s answer to bacon.  The potatoes were sweet and nutty with little crunches of toasted sesame seeds throughout, and the asparagus was simple and delicious.  An easy weeknight dinner, made even better by the rich, chocolate cupcakes our friends brought with them!

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