Italian toasted cheese sandwiches

iStock/msheldrake

Toasted cheese sandwiches are a time-honored tradition in Italy, where they are toasted using a hinged grill that lightly browns both sides of the sandwich at the same time.

You can achieve the same appearance at home by using a stovetop grill pan. Try creating some other variations, such as substituting thin fresh tomato slices or the red bell pepper strips and substituting Swiss or Brie cheese for the Havarti.

For the bread

4 slices of white sandwich bread, crusts removed

Butter, as desired

Dash of minced fresh or dried herbs (such as basil, thyme or dill)

Dash of freshly ground pepper

For the sandwich filling

4 1/8 inch-thick slices of Havarti or other mild-flavored cheese1/2 jarred roasted red bell pepper, cut into 1/2 inch-wide strips

To prepare the bread, lightly spread 1 side of each bread slice with butter. Sprinkle lightly with the herb of your choice.

To assemble each sandwich, top the butter on 1 slice of bread with 2 slices of cheese and half of the bell pepper strips.

Close the sandwich, buttered side down.

To toast the sandwiches, heat a nonstick stovetop grill pan over high heat. (If the pan does not have a nonstick surface, lightly coat it with olive oil.)

Reduce the heat to medium-high; place the sandwiches on the grill and toast, pressing down occasionally with a spatula, for about 1 1/2 minutes per side, or until the cheese is melted and the bread is lightly browned with visible grill marks.

Paulette Mitchell, a culinary instructor, television personality, spokesperson, freelance food writer, and the award-winning author of 13 cookbooks, is known internationally for her quick-to-prepare recipes with gourmet flair. Paulette's most recently published cookbook is "The Complete 15-Minute Gourmet: Creative Cuisine Made Fast and Fresh." She is also the author of "A Beautiful Bowl of Soup" and "The Spirited Vegetarian," which was voted "Best Book in the World on Cooking with Wine" at the 2005 Gourmand World Media Awards. Paulette says that international travel is her favorite source of culinary inspiration.