I received a gift card to offset the expense of my ingredients. By posting this recipe I am entering a recipe contest sponsored by the California Milk Advisory Board and am eligible to win prizes associated with the contest. I was not compensated for my time.
Though I love sandwiches, I will be the first to complain when a restaurant’s sole vegetarian option is a cold sandwich that’s pretty much just hummus and cucumber. Just because I don’t eat meat doesn’t mean that I don’t a wide variety of delicious foods. Luckily, there’s a small Italian diner near me that makes a killer veggie sandwich. Un-luckily, that delicious, hot sandwich probably involves a ton of butter and oil and just isn’t an every day thing.
I took inspiration from that tasty $5 sandwich and made a healthier version at home. Most people hear cheese and think that’s the culprit when a meal has a high calorie count, but that’s totally not the case. I was challenged by RealCaliforniaMilk.com and HealthyEating.org (Dairy Council of California) to use California dairy to lighten up a dish — and let me tell you how easy it is. Pairing the right kind of cheese (while keeping my serving size in check) with sautéed veggies makes any sandwich taste over the top delicious without a ton of calories while a light dab of butter on the bread provides the perfect crispy, crunch. While I’m not a dietitian, I am scientist enough to mention that studies have shown eating low fat dairy 3 times a day may help in maintaining a healthy body weight. Plus, I always find that adding dairy like cheese or yogurt to a snack or meal helps keep me full longer.
When I first when to the store to pickup California dairy, I was fairly certain I’ve had no luck. For some reason, I had it in my head that Wisconsin = dairy and since Michigan is right next to Wisconsin, that’s where all of our dairy would come from. Apparently I’ve never bothered to look at a label before! California is the number one producer of butter, milk, and ice cream in America and #2 in cheese and yogurt. Look for the Real California Milk or Real California Cheese seals on packaging.
Mince the garlic and roughly chop the remaining vegetables.
In a nonstick pan, melt the 1 tbsp. butter. Sauté the onion, garlic, and peppers until almost soft (~5 minutes), then add the zucchini, yellow squash, and mushrooms. Continue sautéing until all veggies are cooked to your liking. Remove from heat and set aside.
If you have a Panini press, preheat. If not, clean out the pan you sautéed the veggies in and heat over medium.
Mix the yogurt with the pesto. Taste and adjust the ratio if it is too tangy for your liking.
Spread the outsides of the bread with a small amount of butter. On the unbuttered side of 4 slices, put ¼ of the veggie mixture and top ¼ of the mozzarella. Spread the remaining slices of bread with the pesto mixture (on the unbuttered side) and place on top of the veggies and cheese, pesto side down.
Carefully place the sandwiches on the pan or in the Panini maker. If using the Panini press, carefully press down and cook for 5 minutes, until the outsides are crispy and the cheese is melty. If cooking in the pan, press the top down with the back of a spatula and flip after 3-4 minutes, when the bread begins to get crispy, and cook until the other side is done.
Slice in half and serve with warm marinara, if desired.
I found that using a Panini press allowed me to use all of the veggies if I carefully pressed. If cooking in a pan and flipping, you may have veggie mixture left over. Using gluten free bread will make the sandwich gluten free.