I'm thrilled that America has embraced panini. They're not the only sandwiches we’re eating (burgers are still up there), but we've grown to love them enough to keep them on the culinary map for a while. The possibilities for these pressed, toasted sandwiches are endless, but creative fillings can turn the simple dish into a sensational meal.
What's the ideal bread for a panini? Whatever complements the filling. Consider these pairings: Italian bread with ham and provolone, focaccia with roasted peppers and Asiago, French bread with sharp cheddar and sliced tomato, or even raisin bread with bananas and peanut butter.
When I was writing this post, I decided to throw a panini party for my family. I arranged a bunch of fillings on the counter (grilled chicken, three different cheeses, baby spinach, fresh basil, pesto, smoked turkey and tomato) and let my boys put whatever they wanted between the slices of bread (for a healthier twist, whole wheat hoagie rolls, halved). We had a blast.
The trick is not to add too many things: Traditional Italian panini have just three, very good ingredients (that's all you need when each one boasts great flavor). In the recipe below, I partnered smoked turkey with baby spinach and Swiss cheese. I added a fourth ingredient because I wanted the pizzazz of basil pesto. To discover all of the joys of panini, try these variations:
• Grilled portobello mushrooms with shaved Parmesan and fresh thyme leaves
• Cheese steak: lean roast beef, caramelized onions, provolone or cheddar cheese
Note: If you don't have a panini press, cook the sandwiches in a large skillet and keep them pressed down with a heavy pan while cooking.
4 whole wheat hoagie or sub rolls (each half should be 1/2 to 3/4-inch thick)
Coat a panini press or large skillet with cooking spray and preheat to medium-high.
Spread the pesto on the bottom half of the rolls. Top with the turkey, spinach and cheese (put the cheese on top so it melts down over the other ingredients). Transfer the sandwiches to the panini press. Cook the sandwiches according to the manufacturer's instructions or, when using a skillet, press the sandwiches down with a heavy pan and cook for 3 to 5 minutes, until the bread is toasted and the cheese melts (when using a skillet, if you want the bread toasted on both sides, flip the sandwiches halfway through cooking).