Panini have been around for centuries, and these days they’re being grilled up in practically every corner café in America. The popularity of grilling panini at home reached a fever pitch when Oprah Winfrey featured the Breville Ikon Panini Press among her 2007 “favorite things”. That model (which I use) and many others began selling out in housewares stores everywhere. Here are 7 tips that will ensure that the panini you make at home are as scrumptious as can be.
1. Choose your grilling method wisely. As I learned in the “Grill Method Smackdown”, not all panini grilling methods yield the same results. A panini press may be the easiest to use and provide the greatest amount of control over heat and pressure, but it’s also the most expensive option. Many people are able to grill sandwiches just fine with a grill pan and/or skillet…although this method can be unwieldy and cumbersome to execute. It all comes down to your personal taste and, perhaps, the frequency with which you plan to grill panini.
2. Experiment with a variety of breads and fillings. Just because panini originated in Italy doesn’t mean you have to limit yourself to foccacia, mozzarella and other Italian ingredients. Or even just savory ingredients. If it’s got bread and fillings and is prepared on the grill, it’s a panino! Try dessert recipes, breads like pita and biscuits, and fillings like mango salsa and apples. Let your taste buds be your guide and have fun with it!
3. Go for the crunch. What separates panini from “regular” sandwiches? It’s the grilling! Grilled bread is the hallmark of panini – make the most of it by brushing olive oil or melted butter on top for a crostini-like crunch. Or, to save a few calories, Columbus Foodie recommends spraying butter flavored cooking spray, another great idea.
4. Be careful with “wet” ingredients. No one likes a soggy sandwich. Many of the great fillings we enjoy on “regular” non-grilled sandwiches, such as tomatoes and juicy meats, sometimes aren’t ideal candidates for panini, where crispness is key. Does that mean these fillings are out of the question (and the panini) entirely? Absolutely not! Just look for ways to contain the excess moisture. For example, add panko breadcrumbs to fish and remove seeds from tomatoes. Another great tip comes from celebrity chef Tom Colicchio (thanks to Foodie Obsessed for mentioning it!): put your wet ingredients in the center of the sandwich.
5. Keep round tops turned in. If you try to grill round-topped breads, like baguettes, you’ll find it can be a real challenge to keep them from rolling over and spilling out the contents of your panini. The answer to this dilemma – a great technique I heard about on the Baking Bites blog: turn round-topped breads inside out so that the flat surfaces make contact with the grill. Genius!
6. Cut with a straight-edged knife. A sharp, straight-edged knife, rather than a serrated one, will ensure a smooth separation for your finished panini.
7. Have a panini party! The best to know if your panini are hitting the mark is to test them out on friends and family. Buy a selection of breads and fillings, fire up the grill, and allow your guests to create their own panini combinations. You may even glean some new ideas!
8. Greens go last. Love to include lettuce in your panini, but can’t stand to have them wilt in the grilling process? Food Network’s George Duran (aka “Ham on the Street”) offers a great solution: stick ‘em in last. Grill your sandwich and then insert anything you’d like to keep leafy – lettuce, spinach, arugula, cilantro to name a few – right before serving.
Do you have other tips? Share them in the comments!