Panini are, in my book, the best kind of sandwich. I love the crunch of grilled bread against the various textures of the filling components, all compacted into a neat package. Recently, a friend of mine inspired me to make panini at home. She makes them all the time for her little boy as vehicles for veggies (genius!), and she happened to whip one up for me recently that was so delicious, I could not stop thinking about it. I tried to satisfy my craving with a panino from Corner Bakery, but it turned out to be a tad over-salty with bread that was too soft. I then went and ate a pretty good one at the local gourmet Italian place, but at 9 bucks a pop, it was a little pricey. At some point I even entertained the idea of getting my fix at the Vons deli counter – totally desperate! It was clear that to achieve my version of the perfect panino, I had to build one myself. I promptly stocked my fridge with plenty of mozzarella cheese, found myself an easy focaccia recipe, and embarked on my mission to satisfy this newfound panini addiction.
One of the great things about pressed sandwiches is that it’s perfect for using up small quantities of leftovers. Just fuse together whatever you’ve got – grilled or roasted veggies, leftover chicken, etc. – with your cheese of choice. For my first try, I opted for a vegetarian sandwich – grilled eggplant and zucchini, mozzarella cheese, fresh basil, and balsamic vinaigrette – while J. requested the always popular prosciutto, mozzarella cheese, and fresh basil. The bread I used was a very simple homemade focaccia from a recipe I found in The Bread Bible by Beth Hensperger. It was essentially a pizza dough allowed a second rise, then dimpled and brushed with herbed olive oil (I used fresh rosemary) and baked on a sheetpan. It had a beautiful golden brown, olive-oil infused exterior, which meant that I didn’t even need to grease the pan when grilling the sandwiches! Here is a recipe that is similar to the one I used.*
I used a double burner grill pan (to achieve the nice indentations on the bread – very important), and weighted the panini with a cast iron frying pan covered in foil (no need to run out to buy a fancy panini press!). The cheese oozed and sizzled on the pan, the bread crisped, and everything warmed and compressed into colorful layers. Mission accomplished.
* I’m still not entirely certain about the copyright laws regarding posting recipes on this blog. I am working on familiarizing myself with the rules, so that I can include recipes with future posts. In the meanwhile, I will always include links to the recipes I feature, and in the case where I use a recipe from a cookbook I own, I will refer you to similar recipes I find on the web.