Gourmet Paninis

By on August 1, 2011

By Erica Galindo –
I’ve become a little obsessed with Panini’s the last few weeks. It all started when my friend Robert Deakins, official cheese guru at Oliver’s Market in Sonoma gave me a sample of a new Mozzarella. “Try this,” he said with a grin, “it would be fantastic on a Panini.”
Strolling the aisles, feasting my eyes, my stomach began to grow. My mind raced with ideas how to build the perfect Panini. Just like an all American sandwich, the basic ingredients are protein and cheese, but one of the keys to a perfect
Panini is adding layers that hold up on the grill.
Ham and cheese Panini

Hickory Smoked Ham & Cheese Panini

I was debating between BBQ turkey and hickory smoked ham, when by chance my cart found the sausage case. Ready to experiment I bought three varieties of Aidells: Smoked Chicken Sausage with Spicy Mango Jalapeno, Cajun style Andouille sausage and the Portobello mushroom.
Perhaps some of you might be wondering – what is a Panini? The term Panini most commonly used today refers to an Italian sandwich made from a small loaf of bread and cooked on a grill. In recent years a small electrical appliance called a Panini press has become the standard cooking method of choice.
Breville, Cuisinart and Le Creuset all offer great models that serve double duty as an indoor grill and sandwich press. The average prices range from approximately $99. to $299 dollars.
Tip #1 – The Press
If you don’t have a Panini press – don’t worry, neither do I. With a little ingenuity you can improvise to get the perfect crisp and golden Panini. For indoors, it’s best to use a cast iron grill pan to get that sweet smokey flavor into your sandwich. All the better if you have a ridged pan to get those fabulous grill markings. To apply the squeeze on top, you can simply use a heavy cast iron skillet. Some chefs even use a 2-3 lb brick, double wrapped in aluminum foil.
Whatever method you choose, the secret to its perfection is to “press” down on the sandwich. The goal is to turn the sandwich into a thinner layer of crunchy cheesy scrumptiousness.
Tip #2 – Protein
When it comes to proteins, be creative. Just pick something packed with flavor and that doesn’t need to be cooked in the process, just warmed. Leftovers are fantastic in a Panini. You can turn leftover chicken or steak into a dazzling new dish when rolled into a crispy cheesy grilled sandwich. The other night I used a leftover Flank steak that had been soaked in a fajita marinade and it was amazing. One word of caution, your leftover steak should be rare to prevent drying out when reheating.
Tip #3 – Bread
Start with something dense and a little crusty like Foccacia, Ciabatta, and French or Italian bread. Soft dinner rolls or thin bread won’t hold together on the grill. My personal favorite is day old French or Sourdough bread because it’s slightly lighter and crispier than Ciabatta or Foccacia.
Whatever bread you choose, remember the key to a crispy Panini is not making the bread too greasy, but at the same time, not too dry. Use extra virgin olive oil and make sure your pan is well oiled. Baste your bread only on one side – the inside, and use a light hand. If you feel inspired, take the extra time and turn your bread into homemade garlic bread. This small extra step is well worth the extra time.
Tip #4 – Vegetables
There’s nothing like the sweet smokey flavor of roasted peppers. The combination of red, orange and yellow peppers adds exciting color and velvety texture. Grilled mushrooms, sun dried tomatoes and marinated artichoke hearts also work great. For the finishing touch of green, try using arugula as it stands up well to the heat and adds that crunchy snap of green flavor to balance out the meat and cheese.
With just four or five ingredients and a little skill you can cook like an Italian food star. Have fun and experiment with some of your own favorite combinations!

 

Steak Panini

Panini with Marinated Flank Steak Provolone & Sauteed Mushrooms & Arugula

Here are a few of my favorites to get you started:

 

* Marinated flank steak, Provolone cheese, grilled mushrooms, roasted peppers & arugula
* Smoked turkey breast, St George cheese, sun-dried tomatoes & watercress
* Smoked ham, Swiss cheese, sweet roasted peppers, arugula & grain mustard
* Cajun style Andouille sausage, Jack cheese, sweet roasted peppers & baby arugula
For more recipes, cooking tips or menu ideas, contact Erica at: http://www.sonomachristianhome.com/, http://facebook.com/sonomachristianhome.

About Erica Galindo

Erica Galindo is a Chef, Writer and Stylist. A native of South Florida and veteran Manhattanite, Erica now lives in the beautiful wine country in Sonoma, California with her husband David and son Jack. She has worked as an editor and feature writer for various national and regional publications including: Woman's Day, Country, Ocean Drive, The South Florida Business Journal and TheChurchReport.com. Erica’s passion for food, faith and family has inspired her to create a new online magazine - www.SonomaChristianHome.com.

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Gourmet Paninis