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Panini: Grilled Sandwich Tips and Recipes

Updated on August 20, 2007

The Rising Star of the Sandwich World

They're popping up everywhere...cafés, bistros, restaurants, gourmet sandwich shops.  Panini, the quintessential grilled sandwich, the grilled cheese for the foodie crowd.  Now you can make them at home with our recipes and tips

When In Italy...

The word "panini" means "small breads" in Italian. This term refers to the bread traditionally used to make panini sandwiches. In English-speaking countries "panini" refers to grilled sandwiches made the traditional Italian way. Technically, "panini" is plural; the singular is "panino."

A panini sandwich is grilled, has a crunchy outside texture, a chewy interior, and is stuffed with a variety of meats, vegetables, and cheese which melts and brings the whole thing together. When grilling, pressure is applied to the sandwich to create a dense texture and meld the ingredients. If made on a real panini press, the sandwich will feature the attractive grilling marks characteristic of a well-made panino.

Only as good as the ingredients

A well-made panini sandwich is only as good as the ingredients you put into it.

Start with a great bread. Traditionally, cibiatta (an Italian sourdough bread) is used, but focaccia is also popular (recipes follow). You can also branch out and make your own discoveries, but you will get best results with a denser bread that will toast with a crisp crust. For a crispy texture, lightly brush the outside of the bread with a good quality olive oil.

Fillings can be almost anything you want, but traditionally include deli-quality meats and cheeses, with the fillings sandwiched between two layers of cheese. Avant-gardistes can make non-traditional panini with anything you want, from bacon and eggs for breakfast, to nutella and a hershey bar for dessert! Below we offer some excellent suggestions for a delicious gourmet panini.

Last of all, you need a panini grill. A panini grill is an electric appliance that somewhat resembles a waffle iron. Heat is applied to the sandwich from above and below, and ridged plates toast the characteristic grill into the bread. The panini grill allows you to place pressure on the sandwich in order to meld the ingredients and create a dense, toothsome texture.

If you don't have a panini grill, you can use a regular indoor electric contact grill, or a heavy duty grill pan. Place the sandwich on the pre-heated grill pan, and then put something very heavy on top of it, such as a cast-iron skillet or a brick wrapped in aluminum foil. When one side of the sandwich is toasted, flip it over and repeat.

Ideas for filling your panini sandwich

  • Salami, provolone, roasted red peppers, extra virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar
  • Turkey, bacon, avocado, lettuce, swiss cheese
  • Provolone, smoked gouda, basil leaves, pesto
  • Provolone, mortadella, coppa, dry salami, prosciutto, marinated cherry peppers
  • Turkey, bacon, roasted red peppers, cheddar
  • Roast beef, mozzarella, caramelized onions, tomatoes, horseradish mayonnaise
  • Pulled chicken, red onion, chopped basil, provolone, tomatoes, mayonnaise
  • Plum tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, basil, prosciutto, olive tapenade
  • Roasted ham, turkey breast, swiss cheese, cheddar cheese, tomatoes, lettuce
  • Jerk chicken, red leaf lettuce, sautéed onions, roasted red peppers, chipotle aioli
  • Grilled portobella mushrooms, asagio cheese
  • Prosciutto, baby arugula, fresh mozzarella, spicy mustard
  • Mortadella, goat cheese, balsamic vinegar
  • Dry salami, arugula, fontina cheese

Bread Machine Ciabatta

Adapted from a recipe from King Arthur Flour.

makes 8 sandwich-sized ciabatta loaves

Starter:

1-1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

1 cup water

1/4 teaspoon active dry yeast

1 teaspoon warm water

Dough:

Starter

1-1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast dissolved in 1 tablespoon warm water

1-1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

1-1/2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon sugar

1 tablespoon nonfat dry milk

1/4 to 1/3 cup water (use the lesser amount for a humid climate, the greater amount for a dry climate)

2 tablespoons olive oil

Directions:

Place the starter ingredients in the pan of your bread machine, program the machine for Dough, press Start, then cancel it once the ingredients are mixed, after a few minutes. Let the starter rest in the machine overnight or up to 24 hours. It will expand and become bubbly, very sticky and very stretchy.

When ready to bake the bread, place the ingredients for the dough in the bread machine on top of the starter. Program the machine for Dough and press Start. About 10 minutes before the end of the second kneading cycle, check the dough. It should be very tacky but holding it's shape somewhat. You may need to add additional flour or water. Let the machine continue its cycle. Halfway through the rising period, gently deflate the dough and turn it over in the bread pan. This helps it to rise and strengthens the gluten. Allow the dough to rest an additional 30 minutes in the machine after the cycle is completed.

The dough will be wet and sticky. This is normal, and it will gain in body with the second rising. It should not, however, be easily pourable, like a batter. If it is, add some more flour.

Transfer the dough to a well-oiled work surface. Lightly oil two large cookie sheets, your hands, and a knife. Using the oiled knife, divide the dough into 2 equal portions. (You can also make larger ciabatta; in that case, increase baking time). Handling the dough gently, stretch it into slipper-shaped logs, and place the logs on the baking sheets.

Lightly cover the dough with heavily oiled plastic wrap, and allow it to rise for 1 hour; it'll become quite puffy. Oil your fingers, and gently poke deep holes all over the dough, dimpling it to give it that lumpy, rustic appearance. Re-oil the plastic wrap, re-cover the dough, and allow it to rise for an additional hour. At this point, the dough will be very puffy; it should jiggle like gelatin when you very gently shake it.

Spray the loaves very heavily with water, and dust them lightly with flour. Bake them in a preheated 425°F oven for 15-20 minutes, or until they're golden brown. Turn off the oven, remove the ciabatta from the baking sheet, and return them to the oven, propping the oven door open a couple of inches with a folded-over potholder. Allow the ciabatta to cool completely in the oven; this will give them a very crisp crust.

Focaccia Bread

1/4 oz. active dry yeast (1 envelope)

1-1/2 teaspoons sugar

1-3/4 cups lukewarm water

4 to 4-1/2 cups all-purpose flour

3 tablespoons olive oil, divided

1/2 teaspoon table salt

1-1/2 teaspoons kosher salt

In a large mixing bowl, stir together yeast, sugar and lukewarm water and proof yeast for 10-15 minutes, or until foamy. Stir in 4 cup of flour, 1 tablespoon of the olive oil and the table salt, adding as much of the remaining flour as necessary to form a soft and slightly sticky dough. Transfer to a lightly-oiled bowl, turn to coat, and let rise, covered, in a warm place for 1 hour, or until double in size. Knead dough down and press with lightly-oiled hands into a well-oiled 15-1/2" x 10-1/2" inch jelly-roll pan and let it rise, covered loosely, for 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 375 F. Set rack in center of oven. Dimple dough with your fingers in places, drizzle with remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil and lightly spread oil over dough; sprinkle with kosher salt. Bake for 35-40 minutes or until pale golden. Let cool for 10 minutes before cutting.

Professional Quality Panini Grills

"Professional" panini grills are high-end grills for restaurant use or the serious home chef.

Home Panini Grills

Moderately priced panini grills for home and occasional use.

Cast Iron Grill Pans

Grill pans are frying pans with ribbed surfaces designed to keep food out of fat and create attractive grilling lines.

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