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Focaccia sandwich a cheesy veggie fest

Thursday, October 25, 2001

By Betsy Kline, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

When we last visited Marianne Miller of McCandless, she had shared her deliciously simple recipe for Chicken Quesadilla Pizza with Countdown.


Ever the busy one in the kitchen, Marianne is back with a filling sandwich dinner that needs little embellishment to polish off hearty appetites. Roasted Red Pepper & Portobello Focaccia Sandwiches are a savory cross between sandwich and pizza. If cheese gives you guilty pangs, rest assured the vegetarian portion of the meal makes up for it with its own juicy virtue.

Marianne, who is trauma outcomes manager in the trauma department of Mercy Hospital, Uptown, is a nurse who knows the value of healthful foods. She also treasures her time in the kitchen as time spent destressing from the day's pressures. "It's also a nice thing for couples to do together," she says. She and husband Donald share kitchen time. She loves grocery shopping.

"I read cookbooks like novels, page by page," she confesses. For her last Countdown contribution she won a cookbook. She selected a cookbook by a popular Hawaiian chef.

Food has always taken center stage in Marianne's life. The daughter of Gert and Stan Fajerski, Marianne recalls a Polish custom of food as celebration. "There are always three main courses at a holiday meal," she lovingly recalls. Both her sister and brother cook. And her mother-in-law, Anna Mae Miller, grows a lot of the vegetables that find their way into Marianne's eclectic kitchen experiments.

For instance, Marianne is more likely to roast her own red peppers for today's recipe, but for the purposes of Countdown's time limit, jarred roasted peppers well drained work just as well. Portobellos are easy to come by these days, both whole and presliced. Depending on your time constraints, you might opt for the presliced -- just brush off any obvious soil with a clean, dry paper towel.

A half pound of Fontina cheese seems like a lot, but it melts to next to nothing, so don't skimp.

Focaccia is often found in better bakery departments of large supermarkets or specialty Italian bakeries. It comes in different flavor combinations. If you can't find focaccia, a sliced baguette or even a good, chewy hoagie bun will do the trick, as long as you take care to cover the entire surface with cheese to prevent burnt spots under the broiler.

We served our focaccia sandwich with potato chips and a fruit cup.

For Marianne's continued efforts, she earns another cookbook from our Countdown grab bag. For details on how you can do the same, read on.

Roasted Red Pepper & Portobello Focaccia Sandwiches

1 loaf focaccia, or baguette or hoagie buns
3 whole roasted red peppers (15-ounce jar or make your own)
8 ounces grated Fontina cheese
8 ounces baby portobello mushroom slices
4 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 tablespoon Italian blend spices (or fresh oregano and basil if you have it)

Preheat broiler.

Slice bread in half horizontally.

Meanwhile, saute portobello mushrooms in olive oil until tender. Towards the end of cooking, add roasted red peppers to warm.

Layer peppers on one half of focaccia, followed by the mushrooms and Italian seasoning.

Top both halves of bread with grated cheese (it seems like a lot, but buttery-soft Fontina practically evaporates, so don't be stingy).

Broil until lightly browned. Place the two halves together, sandwich-style, and cut into serving sized pieces.

Makes 4 servings.

Serve with chips, or fruit or even a small tossed salad. Best when eaten still warm. Does not reheat well.

Do you have an entree, salad or vegetable side dish recipe (no desserts, please!) that can be made in 30 minutes or less from six ingredients or fewer (not counting water, salt and pepper)? Share it with Countdown to Dinner.

The PG tests all recipes and if we select your recipe for publication, you'll receive a free selection from our cookbook grab bag of current releases.

Send your recipe to Countdown to Dinner, Post-Gazette Food, 34 Blvd. of the Allies, Pittsburgh, PA 15222, or fax to 412-263-1313. Please include your name, neighborhood and daytime phone number. Or e-mail to: nanderson@post-gazette.com Questions? Call 412-263-1760.

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