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Panini Perfection

Panini Perfection

These Italian-style sandwiches are spectacular, any way you slice them!

By FamilyTime

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Everyone loves panini -- those meltingly tempting sandwiches sold in specialty markets, cafes, and Italian restauants. Good news! You can make them at home.

The Italian term for sandwich is panino. At its most basic, it's a nothing more than a roll with some food tucked inside, but over the years, the word has come to refer to pressed and heated sandwiches that make the simple task of eating the simple meal sublime.

Many, but not all, panini have cheese, which means they are an Italian version of our all-time favorite, the grilled cheese sandwich. But with a difference. Panini contain soft, melting Italian ricotta or provolone.

Begin with the Bread
Panini are not made with ordinary sliced bread. Instead, they call for chewy Italian loaves such as ciabatta, baguettes, or even focaccia.

The bread can be a roll or may be sliced from a loaf. Most important, it should be fresh, springy, and flavored as you like it. If you're making a panini with fresh veggies and herbs, consider using an herbed loaf. If you like garlic, try garlic-infused bread.

Build the Sandwich
The filling for panini can be as varied as for any sandwich, although some sort of meat and cheese are usually necessary for structure and flavor.

If you have access to an Italian market, try salty proscuitto or parma ham. Try other specialty hams, such as American country ham (like Smithfied) or German Black Forest ham.

You can also make panini with turkey, roast chicken, sliced sausages, roast beef, or grilled pork.

The cheese can be traditional Italian types such as ricotta, mozzarella, provolone, or Asiago, or taleggio, or any cheese you especially like. Think about pressing goat cheese, Muenster, fontina, brie, or cheddar between the bread slices.

After the meat and the cheese, the rest is easy. Grilled vegetables such as mushrooms, eggplant, peppers, onions, and squash are delicious in panini. Add some sliced summer tomatoes, fresh herbs, and a few leaves of arugula to the mix and your sandwich attains star power.

You can moisten the bread for the panini with imported mustard, lemony mayonnaise, or drizzles of olive oil and wine vinegar.

With all these wonderful ingredients to choose from, it's tempting to overload the sandwich. This is a mistake. Use the filling foods sparingly - thin slices of cheese and meat, slivers of veggies, and a few small lettuce leaves.

Also, cut the bread so that it's quite thin. When assembled, the sandwich should be easy to press together and turn during cooking.

Making the Sandwich
In Italy, where panini are served in cafes and bars, they are often made in a sandwich press that compresses them while it grills them. If you have a waffle iron, use it. Otherwise, you can heat the sandwich on a griddle or in a frying pan.

Once the panini are assembled, press on them with the palm of your hand. Trim any rough crusts.

Heat the waffle iron, sandwich press (such as those sold for the French croque monsieurs), griddle, or frying pan. Don't add any butter or oil.

Toast the sandwich between the hot sides of the sandwich press or waffle iron. On a griddle or in a frying pan, press on the sandwich with the flat of large spatula. Turn it after two to three minutes, and continue to toast until the bread is lightly browned and the cheese begins to melt.

Taking a little extra care and time to make panini takes the mundane experience of making sandwiches to a new level. Enjoy these glorious creations!

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