Grilled Cheese Madness!

Top chefs from around Canada converged on Toronto recently to duke it out for best grilled cheese. Chef Paul Olgarski from Rouge in Calgary, Melissa Craig from the Bearfoot Bistro in Whistler, Corbin Tomaszeski from Toronto’s Holt Renfrew Cafe and Michael Howell from Tempest in Nova Scotia.

This is a dish that doesn’t get the spotlight very often, an easy standby for lunch.

Two pieces of bread, some  cheese, butter and a hot pan. Simple right? Think again.

You’ll never settle for that again after you try the award-winning recipe from Chef Michael Howell.

This might seem like a daunting recipe but each component is quick and easy to whip up and the end result will make you swoon.

Panini Toscano

By Chef Michael Howell


1 fresh ciabatta bun, about 5“ (12cm) square

1 tbsp (15 mL) lemon aioli

1 ripe fig cut into 4-5 slices

2 slices of Parma prosciutto thinly shaved

2 slices 1 oz (30g) each Canadian Havarti cheese, 1/8“ (2mm ) thick

1 oz (30g) fresh baby arugula

½ roasted red pepper, peeled & cut into ¾“ (2 cm) slices

1 tbsp (15 mL) balsamic vinaigrette

Lemon Aioli Ingredients

¼ cup (60 mL) prepared olive oil mayonnaise

Juice and zest from ½ a lemon

1 clove garlic

Balsamic Vinaigrette Ingredients

1 tsp (5 ml) balsamic vinegar

Pinch of salt and pepper

½ tsp (2 mL) Dijon mustard

Pinch of sugar

Juice of ½ lemon

¼ cup (60 mL) extra virgin olive oil

Preparation & Cooking

  1. 1. Mix aioli ingredients together and let flavours mingle for ½ an hour.
  2. 2. Split the fresh ciabatta in ½ and brush both sides liberally with the lemon aioli.
  3. 3. Layer one slice of havarti cheese on the bottom of the bun, then top with the sliced figs, prosciutto, couple sprigs of arugula and finish with other slice of cheese.
  4. 4. Top with the other side of the bun, place in a pre-heated panini press and grill until cheese is melting and bread is lightly marked.
  5. 5. If using a grill or barbeque, place a weight on top of sandwich and flip halfway through cooking.
  6. 6. While sandwich is grilling, make vinaigrette by combining first five ingredients in a small bowl. Slowly whisk in oil until incorporated.
  7. 7. In other small bowl, dress arugula with 1 tbsp of vinaigrette and place on a plate.
  8. 8. Toss two slices of red pepper in same bowl to dress lightly and place on top of salad.
  9. 9. When sandwich is ready, remove from press and split in ½ diagonally.
  10. 10. Place around salad and serve immediately.
  11. 11. Lightly brush the bun on both sides with extra virgin olive oil and If using a grill or bbq place a weight on top of sandwich and flip ½ way through cooking.

Preparation time: 30 minutes

Cooking time: 10 minutes

Yield: 1 serving

Suggestions & tips: You could also use Canadian Provolone or smoked Mozzarella to replace Havarti

Nutritional Information Per Serving

Energy 654 Cal.

Protein 32 g

Carbohydrate 51 g

Fat 37 g

Fibre 5.1 g

Sodium 1542 mg

Calcium 591 mg

Cheese lovers across Canada can receive a free copy of the ‘All You Need Is Cheese’ magazine with an array of grilled cheese recipes (including the recipes featured at the Grate Canadian Grilled Cheese Cook-Off) and tips for making the perfect grilled cheese by visiting

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