Mini Panini’s On The Grill

TheFoodAss | General, Grill, Recipes | Monday, July 31st, 2006

Panini and Salad

Visit Italy and order a Panini. Chances are what you will get in return for your 4 euro won’t be anything like what your used to back home. The Panini, actually just Italian for “sandwich”, is another one of those foods molded and perfected in the U.S and given a more exotic name to make all of us feel just a bit more worldly. What you will be served from a cart or any neighborhood Roman bar will amount to what we in the states call a “Ham and Cheese”, In Italian the Speck de Formaggio sandwich.. Or, something like that. They will probably ask if you want it warmed though, and chances are, it will be pressed on a hot griddle. Albeit, not _quite_ the same. The Panini to Italians is an on-the-go food, a sort of sophisticated BigMac. They seem quite appropriate wrapped in their paper in the hands of sexy Italian women, strolling the cobblestone streets arm in arm.

Of course the world Panini back home conjors up images of crusty artisan breads filled with tasty greens, melted cheese and whatever other yuppie hipster ingredient is the new hotness that month. You can find them in almost all coffee houses, deli’s and stylish bistros around the country. Here is my take on the American by way of Italy panini.

This is the kind of meal that literally fits any scenario. You can press together a panini, post bar nite with whatever meats and cheese you have left in the refrigerator. Or you can go ahead and do it up for the hot ladies (or dudes) with fine ingredients and proper side dishes. For this example, the girlfriend and I made a nice saturday evening dinner out of it. Total cost was like $14 for both of us (but we could have fed 4-5, we had lots left over). The foodass loves looking good for cheap. (Click more for long article with photo’s)

Components:

Bread: We chose a garlic baquette from the local crazy-mart (Meijer). At a $1.99 we are luck to be able to snag such a tasty loaf. This specific baquette was traditional in shape, long and thin. Making it impossible to make full sized sandwiches. We decided to make mini-panini’s instead of your standard full-sized sandwich. I cut the baquette into slices a little less than 1/2 inch each.

Cheese: I had half a ball of fresh mozzarella left over from the grill pizza article. Sliced thin, 4 pieces left. Just enough for 4 mini sandwiches. Of course, you could use whatever fromage suits your fancy. Well any EXCEPT “American”, that ish is nasty, and thefoodass readers dont eat nasty.

Veggies: Vidalia onions happened to be in season, and in stock at the crazymart. I chopped one down and carmelized it in a saute pan for 20 minutes.

To carmelize onions:

Chop onion into wedges. Add to pan with pat of butter, touch of olive oil. Sautee on high for a few minutes until the onions soften up a bit. Add a splash of good balsamic and drop the heat to LOW. Cover, and let chill on low heat. When you return in 20 minutes I swear you’d think the transformation was better than that whole water to wine thing.

I also had a red pepper that I sliced, and dropped on the grill for ~5 minutes. Then sliced some more and let it chill out.

Meat: Remember I’m making 4 mini sandwiches. 2 for me, 2 for her. I wanted grilled chicken on mine. She wanted a big ol’ mushroom (portobello that is). For me I grilled a chicken breast, let it rest, and chopped it up. For her, I brushed a big portobello cap with olive oil on both sides and let it hit the grill for about 2.5 minutes on each side. Then sliced it into mini-panini sized wedges.

Extra’s: In my opinion, a panini needs something else, something a little “special” to transform it into what we think of as a panini. For our mini-sandwiches, that piece was fresh basil pesto. Buying pesto in a store is a 100% complete and total scam. It is almost always flavorless, and a complete rip-off to boot. Why do it when you can make it at home in like 5 minutes? Pesto is also one of those things you can make a big batch of, and keep it for later. Adding it to tasty things like… Pasta, Sandwiches, Fish!, and whatever else you want. Below is my recipe (which is actually the same as every other recipe you will find) for Basil Pesto.

thefoodass Basil Pesto:

Put a big solid handfull of fresh basil into a food processor. Drizzle a good amount of olive oil over top. A couple garlic cloves, some pine-nuts and a tablespoon or so of parmesan cheese (not from the green can). Put the chop to it until it is nice and smooth, adding more olive oil as necessary til it is smooth and full of holy-tastiness. Put in a container for later. Yum! easy! CHEAP!

Ok. All thats left now is to put our panini’s together and put the squeeze on. I liberally brushed 4 pieces of the bread (the bottoms) I had cut with olive oil on one side, and put them oil side down on a plate. Dont be shy with the oil here, sandwiches sticking to whatever heat source you use will suck, and your lady will leave you for Brock. True story. I then pushed the bread down a bit in the center to make a little pocket type indentation for the fillings. Then fil (dar), and top with the other piece of bread. Again brush the top with oil. For mine it went like this (top to bottom):

  1. Bread brushed with oil
  2. Basil Pesto
  3. Cheese
  4. Grilled red pepper
  5. Grilled chicken
  6. Bread brush with oil

Once it’s put together onto the heat it goes. For me, this meant a clean, freshly oiled grill grate.

PaniniOnTheHeat

I’m using a charcoal grill. It fits in my backseat and works fine. You could use a pan on the stovetop, a foreman grill, a hot brick. Whatever. Of course, heat is only 50% of the panini equation. Part due of the equation is getting your press on. This heats the sandwich from the top, helping to melt the cheese and heat the ingredients, and toast the bread. It also presses everything together, finalizing this little taste of heaven. My press is a hot cast-iron skillet. You could use anything hot and heavy (lol).

This step is the one that will let you know if you oilied your bread tops enough. You mos def DONT want your hot skillet (Brick, Press, Pan, Shoe) to stick to the top of your panini. Anyway, give the sandwich a solid press, you should hear a pleasant sizzle. Let the weight sit on top for a minute to two minutes until the sandwich is heated throughout. Remove. I did this x4

x4Panini!

Top the glistening hot bread with a little parmesan, and drop them on a plate with appropriate side dishes. I made a pesto-pasta salad using the (you guessed it!) pesto leftover from earlier, along with some parmesan cheese, roma tomatos, and diced olives. yum!

PaniniWPasta

Wow. Sounds like alot of work? It’s not. 90% of this stuff can be done ahead of time (and should be! Think of how sophisticated you will look with homeade pesto always in the fridge!) allowing you to put together a post-work-panini for the significant other and you at a moments notice. Or make 12 for all your friends. Easy.



3 Comments

Leave a comment

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI