Preface: As I was writing this post, I kept typing "paninis," which caused a little red line to pop up under the word, indicating it was misspelled. A quick Google search turned up a few debates about the plural of "panini." It turns out the word "panini" IS actually plural. And although it's never used, "panino" is the word that indicates one singular panini. While I can't bring myself to use the word panino, I will oblige the true Italians out there by using "panini" to indicate one or more sandwiches.
Two years ago I requested a panini maker for Christmas, and it has become one of my most beloved kitchen gadgets. Panini elevate the sandwich to an art form, transforming it from lunchbox staple into a hot, deeply satisfying meal. They make the perfect weekend lunch, and are also great for entertaining. I love making a variety of different panini at once, and then cutting them into small pieces so that everyone can sample more than one type at a time.
You don't have to have a panini maker to make panini. A George Foreman grill will work, or you can just get a panini press, which is a heavy iron lid with ridges on the bottom. Here's an example. I have the Cuisinart Griddler, which is awesome because it "triples" as a panini maker, griddle, and regular indoor grill.
I've done quite a bit of panini experimenting over the years. I can't say there have been too many failures (what can taste bad sandwiched between hot crusty slabs of artisan bread?), but there have definitely been a few standouts. So today I present to you my top five favorite panini concoctions.
Before I list the ingredients, I've got to talk about the bread. My favorite bread to use is ciabatta bread. But because it's so thick, you should pick the excess bread out of the middle after you slice it. My second favorite panini bread is sourdough. I'm sure there are other breads out there that would work too (focaccia comes to mind), but these two are tried and true.
1) Caprese panini: Spread pesto on the bread, then add thinly sliced tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, and fresh basil leaves. You can also add some prosciutto if you'd like.
2) Turkey & sundried tomato panini: Mix mayonnaise with some pesto and spread on bread. Add turkey lunchmeat, provolone cheese, and a few sundried tomatoes. You can also substitute roasted red peppers for the sundried tomatoes.
3) Chicken, brie & sage panini: Pound an uncooked chicken breast until thin, saute in a frying pan until no longer pink, and then slice horizontally to create a thin slice of breast. Cover one half of the bread with slices of brie (or you can slather with the spreadable kind of brie) place the chicken on top of the brie, and lay several fresh sage leaves over the chicken.
4) Fig, manchego, and arugula panini: Spread the bread with a fig spread (it's kind of like a jam). Top with slices of manchego cheese, some prosciutto, and some arugula.
5) Ham & cheddar panini: Spread the bread with a mixture of mayo and dijon mustard. Top with sliced cheddar cheese and smoked ham.
To make the paninis, just brush the top and bottom of the sandwich with olive oil (or you can coat the griddle/pan with olive oil. Press the top of the machine (or panini press) down as hard as you can for about 30 seconds. Then let it cook until you see those golden brown lines in the bread. Slice and enjoy!