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by Deborah Dove
I must confess that I am a bit of a sucker for the specialty kitchen appliance. In addition to the requisite toaster, microwave and coffeemaker, I am also the proud owner of a crock-pot (two actually—one large one for meals and a small one for dip), a bread maker, an iced tea maker, a wok, a quesadilla maker, an electric griddle, a snow cone machine, coffee bean grinder and a fondue pot. Amazingly, I use all of these appliances with some regularity, with the possible exception of the fondue pot, since I’ve never quite been able to figure out how it works and the occasion never seems to justify the effort.
Despite my overcrowded kitchen cabinets, I had been wanting a panini grill for a while (actually, ever since I discovered my favorite turkey artichoke sandwich at Panera Bread and thought ‘hey, I could have this anytime I want if I had my own panini maker’). So when I recently found one on sale, I couldn’t resist. Numerous sandwiches later, I am in love with my newest appliance.
The panini maker (also called a panini grill or press) is essentially a two-sided grill used to make sandwiches. The top and bottom heating units cook sandwiches quickly and evenly, eliminating the need for turning and compressing the bread to create dis-tinctive ridges. Although you can use any type of bread, focaccia, ciabatta, sourdough or Italian bread works best. Somehow, a sandwich just tastes better when it’s grilled, and you can throw just about anything between two slices of bread, grill it a few minutes and end up with something that tastes gourmet.
My family, some of whom have been known to ridicule my appliance obsession ("isn’t it just as easy to boil water for tea," my husband has asked bewilderedly), love the panini press almost as much as I do. Even my picky eight-year-old loves the sandwiches and comments on how "professional" they look. Best of all, they’re simple and quick to make, create very little mess to clean up, and don’t heat up the kitchen.
If you’re interested in a buying a panini maker, I highly recommend it. Of course I also recommend melon ballers and egg slicers. However, if you don’t have a panini maker or the yen to buy one, you can achieve similar results with a waffle iron or any other two-sided grill, or you can cook the sandwich in a large skillet or on a griddle while pressing gently with a spatula (some people suggest using a heavier pan or a clean brick wrapped in aluminum foil).
Although you can (and should) experiment with your own combination of meats, cheese, vegetables and bread, following are a few grilled sandwich recipes to help you fall in love with the panini too. Unless otherwise noted, each recipe makes one sandwich.
Chipotle Chicken Panini
2 slices sourdough bread
1/4 c. Ranch salad dressing
1 cooked chicken breast, diced
1/2 c. shredded Cheddar cheese
1 Tbs. bacon bits
1 1/2 tsp. chipotle chili powder, or to taste
2 Tbs. softened butter
Preheat a panini press for medium-high heat. Spread one side of each piece of bread with the Ranch dressing. Place the chicken on top of the bottom slice, sprinkle with cheddar cheese, bacon bits, and chipotle chili powder. Place the top piece of bread onto the sandwich, and butter the outsides with the softened butter.
Cook on the preheated grill until the bread is crispy and golden brown, and the inside of the sandwich is hot, about 5 minutes.
Grilled Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich
Butter flavored spray
2 slices white or wheat bread
1 tsp. peanut butter
2 tsp. any flavor fruit jelly
Heat panini press or griddle to 350º. Spray one side of each slice of bread. Spread peanut butter on unbuttered side of one slice of bread and jelly on the other. Place one slice, buttered side down on the panini press or griddle. Top with other slice so that peanut butter and jelly are in the middle. Cook for 4-8 minutes (turning halfway if cooking on a griddle) or until golden brown, and heated through.
Panera Bread’s Ham, Gruyere and Apple Sandwich on Ciabatta
1 loaf Ciabatta bread
1/4 lb. deli-sliced ham
2 oz. thinly sliced Gruyere cheese
1/2 apple (any variety), thinly sliced
1 tsp. butter
Slice the Ciabatta lengthwise. Spread each half with Dijon mustard. Sauté the apple slices in a teaspoon of butter in a non-stick pan just until tender. On one slice of bread, layer cheese, then apples and top with ham slices. Top with remaining bread. Heat the sandwich on a grill press or grill pan until warm and cheese has melted slightly. Cut the sandwich in half to serve.
Roast Beef-Cheddar Panini
(makes four sandwiches)
1 large onion, sliced
1 tsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 c. horseradish sauce, divided
8 slices bread
1 lb. deli roast beef slices
4 slices Cheddar cheese
Butter flavored spray
Sauté first 3 ingredients in a lightly greased skillet over medium-high heat for 8 minutes, or until onion is tender.
*You can skip this step and just layer the onion (sans salt and sugar) with the remaining sandwich ingredients without sautéing if you’re pressed for time.
Spread 1 Tbs. horseradish sauce on each of 4 bread slices; top evenly with roast beef, onion and cheese. Top with remaining bread slices. Spray with butter on both sides of sandwich. Cook in a preheated panini press 2 to 3 minutes or until golden brown. Serve with remaining horseradish sauce.
California Grilled Veggie Sandwich
(makes four servings)
1/4 c. mayonnaise
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbs. lemon juice
1/8 c. olive oil
Splash of balsamic vinegar
1 c. sliced red or green bell peppers
1 small zucchini, sliced
1 red onion, sliced
1 tomato, sliced
1 small yellow squash, sliced
Sliced mushrooms (optional)
2 (4-x6-inch) focaccia bread pieces, split
4 thick slices Mozarella cheese
In a bowl, mix the mayonnaise, minced garlic, and lemon juice. Set aside in the refrigerator for about an hour.
Mix olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Brush vegetables with olive oil mixture on each side (or place vegetables and oil/vinegar in gallon sized Ziploc and shake a few times to coat). Place vegetables on foil-lined cookie sheet and bake at 400º for 15-20 minutes. Remove from oven and set aside.
Spread mayonnaise mixture on the cut sides of the bread, and add Mozarella cheese. Place slice of bread with cheese on the panini press, cheese side up. Top with veggies and remaining slice of bread. Close panini press and cook for 2 to 3 minutes, or until lightly browned.v
Deborah Dove is a freelance writer from Allen.