Pressing the Issue of Panini’

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panini sandwich
By: Susan Heckler

Have you ever noticed that each year a new food trend appears? With that trend comes new kitchen equipment to prepare, serve, store, instruct and anything else you can imagine profiting from.

Think back….1950’s was the decade of the casserole, 1960’s was fondue and French influence thanks to Julia Child, the 1970’s showed us interesting pasta and anything can be made into bread, 1980’s brought rediscovered comfort food and nouvelle cuisine, and the 1990’s taught us to stack our meal and pile it high. The new millennium brought us foot-longs, on-the-go, supersized and sushi.

Some trends came and went, other came and stayed. One welcome resident to our culinary choices would be the Panini sandwich. A Panini, as originated in Italy, is basically a word for a sandwich made without the use of sliced bread. Choices such as Ciabatta, Rosetta, or baguette can be cut horizontally and filled with ingredients such as salami, ham, cheese, or other food. They are best served warm after having been pressed by a warming grill.

The American version, a Panini refers to pressed and toasted sandwiches. Although this food favorite originally began in the 16th century, it has been an addition to American fare since the 1970’s. They became available in restaurants in the 1990’s. You will find Panini presses and sandwich grills in many American kitchens on the shelf near the Panini cookbooks.

What is the fascination? You can eat them at any meal, the combinations of fillings are endless, your choice of rustic breads has expanded, you don’t really need special equipment and it is a quick cleanup. A Panini can be made in any frying pan, although the presses are fairly small and inexpensive to own.

It is simple to prepare great for any season, can be individualized and eaten on the run. It can be as simple as a grilled cheese sandwich or as exotic as you can imagine. It can be customized to be low fat, low salt, or vegetarian to cater to anyone’s diet limitation. In addition to meats and cheeses, condiments and vegetables can be added. Spinach, pesto, roasted peppers, herbs, olive oil, salsa…let your imagination run wild. What more can you ask for?

My Panini press and I have taken on the tough burden of test driving some recipes from Here are some of my all-time favorites:

· Chicken Saltimbocca Brush the inside of a split ciabatta roll with pesto. Fill with sliced grilled chicken, Fontina and prosciutto, and chopped fresh sage. Press and cook until golden.

· Roast Beef–Onion Spread Dijon mustard on 2 thick slices of sourdough bread. Layer shredded gruyere, sliced roast beef, caramelized onions and more gruyere between the bread. Press and cook until golden (see photo)

· Eggplant-Mozzarella Brush the inside of a split sub roll or sliced Italian bread with olive oil. Fill with 2 slices each fresh mozzarella and grilled eggplant, and a few basil leaves; season with salt and pepper. Press and cook until golden.

· Grilled Veggie Brush the inside of a split ciabatta roll with pesto. Fill with slices of grilled eggplant, zucchini, yellow squash and roasted red peppers. Add 2 slices fresh mozzarella and a few basil leaves. Press and cook until golden.

· Reuben Spread Thousand Island dressing on 2 slices rye bread. Layer sliced Swiss cheese, corned beef, sauerkraut and more cheese between the bread. Press and cook until golden.

· Cuban Spread the inside of a split Cuban or other soft sub roll with yellow mustard. Fill with sliced dill pickle, deli ham, roast pork or turkey and Swiss cheese. Press and cook until golden.

· Breakfast Burrito Roll up scrambled eggs, shredded pepper jack cheese and salsa in a flour tortilla. Press and cook until golden

· Berry Croissant Lightly spread the inside of a split croissant with marshmallow crème. Fill with bittersweet chocolate chunks and sliced strawberries. Press and cook until golden. (see photo)

· Thanksgiving Sandwich sliced turkey, cheddar and some cranberry sauce between slices of potato bread. Cook in a skillet with butter until golden but don’t press.

Try it, you will like it!