A Solo, Meditative Lunch: Anchovy, Creamy Havarti + Pesto Panini

June 26, 2013

When she has the kitchen all to herself, Phyllis Grant of Dash and Bella cooks beautiful iterations of what solo meals were always meant to be: exactly what you want, when and where you want them.  

Today: A recent introspective lunch produces an anchovy, creamy havarti, and pesto panini to commit to memory -- and a quick pesto recipe, too.

Shop the Story

I always cook what I want. But I don’t mean that in a snarky or selfish or overbearing way: the bottom line is that I don’t let my kids’ whims run the kitchen. Often their enthusiastic desire to help me plan, shop, and cook results in a dreamy, perfect dinner hour. But more often than I’d like to admit, at the end of a long day, my kids arrive at the table all crabby and tired and desperately wanting a cheeseburger and instead of that, an enormous cruciferous mash-up slaw made from every single vegetable in the CSA box sits right in front of their faces. That’s when the griping and gagging and pushing away of their plates begins, often escalating into an outburst or two: "that’s the most disgusting thing I’ve ever seen!"

I channel that stand-your-ground eerily calm mama who says things like "Sweeties, this is dinner, I’m not making anything else -- if you’re not eating it then please brush your teeth and go to bed." And more often than not, they will start to eat. And then (with a little nudging) they will admit that dinner is not nearly as disgusting as they had initially imagined. And I’ll smile to myself, knowing that the next day I’ll get my kids off to camp, sit down to write, and listen for that moment when my belly says feed me, Phyllis, feed me some anchovies.

More: Another great way to get a little more anchovy into your meals? Bagna Cauda.

From the initial gathering of ingredients to the assembly on my cutting board to the last salty bit I scoop up and lick off my fingers, my solo meals are quite meditative. In those twenty minutes, I’m not responsible for any child’s future. I can put my elbows on the table, use the dishtowel as a napkin, and fill my sandwich with as many little fishies as I like. It’s all about listening to my hunger, my cravings, my hormones. It's about cooking and eating exactly what I want, interference-free.

I’m still not quite sure why, but last week, my quiet introspective lunch produced the best sandwich I’ve ever had. Maybe it was the way the anchovies lost themselves in the creamy Havarti, merging into an umami fat bomb. Or how the freshly-bashed, garlic-heavy herbaceous pesto jumped around my mouth. Or how I was suddenly aware -- as my teeth plunged loudly into the crispy bread -- of my very quiet house. Or maybe it was just that I was eating exactly when, what, and where I wanted. 

To make this sandwich: Heat up your panini press, grill, or pan. Halve your bread (a bit stale is fine). Spread pesto (see quick recipe below) all over both halves. Layer one half with slices of creamy Havarti (cheddar, Monterey Jack, or mozzarella work as well). Drape as many anchovy fillets as you like -- I prefer those packed in oil -- over the cheese. There is plenty of oil on the inside of this sandwich, so no need to oil the outside. Grill. If you’re using a pan or a grill, you can mimic a panini press by placing something heavy like the bottom of a cast iron pan or a brick wrapped in tin foil on the sandwich as it cooks. It’s done when the bread is browned and the cheese just starts to ooze out the sides. Eat right away.

To make a quick pesto: I use my mortar and pestle, but you could use a food processor, blender, or the kitchen counter and a chef's knife. Make a paste out of one clove of garlic and one anchovy. Add a handful of toasted warm nuts (almonds, walnuts, pine nuts, or a combination). Blend vigorously until it’s almost creamy (a little remaining crunch is fine). Add a handful of herbs (try a combination of basil, parsley, and arugula). Blend until you have a thick green paste (again, some chunks are fine). Add a pinch or two of lemon zest, a splash of lemon juice, a drizzle of sherry wine vinegar, a glug of olive oil, and a pinch of salt. Mix. Taste. Adjust seasoning. If you have a slice of avocado lying about you can add that as well for some additional creaminess. If you want, loosen it up with some more olive oil. Taste again. Adjust seasoning.

Photos by Phyllis Grant

Listen Now

Join The Sandwich Universe co-hosts (and longtime BFFs) Molly Baz and Declan Bond as they dive deep into beloved, iconic sandwiches.

Listen Now

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Cedarglen
  • Maria Stuart
    Maria Stuart
  • Marian Bull
    Marian Bull
  • Brette Warshaw
    Brette Warshaw
  • Kenzi Wilbur
    Kenzi Wilbur
Phyllis Grant is an IACP finalist for Personal Essays/Memoir Writing and a three-time Saveur Food Blog Awards finalist for her blog, Dash and Bella. Her essays and recipes have been published in a dozen anthologies and cookbooks including Best Food Writing 2015 and 2016. Her work has been featured both in print and online for various outlets, including Oprah, The New York Times, Food52, Saveur, The Huffington Post, Time Magazine, The San Francisco Chronicle, Tasting Table and Salon. Her memoir with recipes, Everything Is Out of Control, is coming out April 2020 from Farrar Straus & Giroux. She lives in Berkeley, California with her husband and two children.


Cedarglen July 26, 2013
Wonderful! I always enjoy your posts and now, at Food 52 you'll get more exposure. As always, my favorites are posts that include the kids' participation in preparing food. Best wishes, -C.
Maria S. June 26, 2013
Oh, I want this right now!
Marian B. June 26, 2013
Making this pesto immediately.
Brette W. June 26, 2013
This is EXACTLY what I want right now.
Kenzi W. June 26, 2013
Would it be weird to eat this for breakfast? Because I want to.
Devangi R. June 26, 2013
Totally normal if more than one person wants it for breakfast because even I want it.
Kenzi W. June 26, 2013
Phyllis G. June 26, 2013
i've had this for breakfast.
fiveandspice June 26, 2013
100% perfect for breakfast. If I can get my hands on some havarti I'm trying it tomorrow morning! And will maybe have seconds for lunch.