It is almost impossible to meet a food lover who cannot define a grilled cheese sandwich. A panini sandwich takes what people love about grilled cheese sandwiches to the next level.
Commonly just called a panini, it combines the primary characteristic of a sandwich, placing food between slices of bread, and the unique aspect of pressing the sandwich with a panini press to give it defined and golden brown ridges. Grilled cheese sandwiches differ from panini in that they are made on a frying pan or skillet. The bread is not necessarily grilled on both sides.
For the best panini results, everything needs to be flat; bread, cheese slices, meat, vegetables, and other fillings. Flat paninis allow heat to spread evenly because the panini grill is not meant for cooking but heating the sandwich. The heating process should let the cheese melt and the bread turn brown & crispy. Everything else should be grilled separately then sliced before placing on the bread.
Still not clear what a panini sandwich is? Let us define it further, give you its brief history and explain how to make a panini with the available ingredients at home.
What is a Panini Sandwich?
A panini is an Italian word meaning small bread or bread roll. Therefore, a panini sandwich is a grilled sandwich made on Italian bread. Baguette, rosetta, michetta and ciabatta are the commonly used Italian bread for making a panini. The bread needs to be a hearty size and is cut horizontally as opposed to the vertical cut for the traditional sandwich.
The original panini sandwich uses strongly flavored meats such as prosciutto (raw cured Italian ham) and salami with cheeses such as provolone, asiago and/or mozzarella. You can switch these ingredients with your favorite ones, such as ham, turkey and roasted beef.
Panini first appeared in the Italian cookbook in the 16th century, but its first American mention dates back to the 1950s. They later became popular in the 1970s and 80s in Milanese bars in Italy. Restaurants and cafes in New York copied this trend and began selling paninis and adding readily-available ingredients.
The panini stands out from all other sandwiches because of its desirable external characteristics—the notable crisp finish and distinct grill marks on both sides. This visually appealing and palate-pleasing effect occurs when using a panini press or grill. The presser’s bottom and top plate have ridges that give the bread indentation.
How to Make a Panini Sandwich
Paninis are a filling and quick food to make that can satisfy you for lunch or dinner. You also have the option of making a mini-panini for snacking or as a dessert to enjoy after a fun night out. Here are the simple steps you can take to make a crispy and delicious panini sandwich.
- Choose the right bread: You need to make a panini with bread that can hold the weight of the ingredients and withstand the pressure from grilling. Ciabatta, baguettes and rosetta are heavier and can withstand intense grilling.
- Lightly spread olive oil on the inner side of the bread—too much will make the bread soggy. Next, add your cheese and other ingredients of your choice. Some popular ingredients to use are roasted beef, grilled chicken, cured Italian ham and grilled veggies.
- Add flavors such as fresh cilantro, diced onions, lettuce, tomatoes or spinach. Sprinkle some salt, garlic, sauce or other spices and herbs. Do not overfill the panini with many ingredients, or the panini will not heat well. Cover the ingredients with the other slice of bread and brush the outsides with olive oil or butter.
- Preheat the panini press for about three minutes to give the bread better grill marks and make it more crispy.
- Place the sandwich on the panini press, close the lid and cook for 3–5 minutes or until golden brown.
- Use a grill on your stovetop or a frying pan if you do not have a panini press. Add olive oil or butter to the pan and preheat it. Place the panini sandwich and press it firmly until the bottom turns golden brown.
- Flip the panini sandwich and repeat the process. Serve while hot to enjoy the crispness fully.
Expert Tip: Wrap your panini sandwich in parchment paper to contain the ingredients. You can enjoy more ingredients in your panini without worrying if they will spill over.