Fast, fresh and local: Panini

Recipes tagged ‘fast, fresh and local’ are offered with busy family weeknights in mind. Grilled panini have become a standby at our house in recent years, especially with our teen boys and their friends. But they’re also a great option on busy weeknights. With a simple salad of mixed greens or a plate of raw veggies and hummus, I can pull together a family-pleasing, healthy dinner in a snap. Often I do little more than wash a bunch of fresh spinach and maybe grill some sliced onions, before laying out bread, cheese, sliced turkey and perhaps an aoili, then declaring it a self-service panini bar. The following loosely structured guidelines are adapted and reprinted from a chef demo I did at the farmers’ market a few years ago. It was ‘kids day’ at the market, which underscores the panini’s simplicity and family appeal. 


A great thing about these popular sandwiches is that possibilities are endless. You can use almost any nice quality bread: ciabatta or focaccia are probably most authentic, but we usually use sliced multigrain “Monster” loaves from Breadfarm.  Same is true for the fillings – almost anything goes when assembling favorite combinations, and good locally grown/produced sources abound. Cheese isn’t essential, but lends flavor and helps to keep smaller ingredient pieces between the bread slices as it melts. This can be helpful when flipping your sandwich on a grill pan. Of course, two-part panini grills solve that problem; no flipping necessary.

Depending on your other fillings, you may want to spread a pesto, mayonnaise, herb butter or other flavorful sauce on the inside of the bread slice(s).  For that matter, there is no rule that says panini must be grilled – the word simply translates from Italian to “little sandwich”. Still, I bet most people would agree those crispy grill marks and oozy cheese send texture and flavor over the top, elevating a very good sandwich to something extraordinary.

Some suggested combinations:

  • Roasted or grilled sweet red pepper, fresh arugula or spinach leaves, grilled or shaved raw sweet onion, kalamata olive tapenade, local fresh goat cheese
  • Grilled zucchini, mushrooms and onions with local gouda cheese
  • Caprese style: sliced tomato, fresh mozzarella, fresh basil leaves
  • Sliced apple and sharp cheddar cheese
  • Sliced pears with Holmquist hazelnut butter and chocolate
  •  Honeycrisp apples with honey-roasted peanut butter from Bellewood Acres
  • Smoked wild salmon, sliced red onion, capers, cornichons, mustard, fresh dill, cream cheese (a grilled variation on Bagels & Lox)
  • Grilled slices of eggplant, zucchini, red bell pepper and onion with fresh tomato, basil and garlic (a sandwich variation on ratatouille)
  • Sliced roasted turkey, cranberry sauce, spinach, red onion, sliced havarti cheese
  • Fried sliced salt-cured bacon from Farmer Ben, with sliced Beecher’s Flagship cheese or Samish Bay aged gouda, sliced tomato, basil pesto
  • Sliced grilled pasture-raised chicken, tomato, pepper, onion, roasted garlic and cilantro pesto

To prepare, preheat your electric panini press per manufacturer instructions, or place a heavy grill pan on the stove over medium high heat. Brush your bread slices lightly on one side with olive oil or soft butter and place oiled side down on a clean work surface. Assemble by stacking an appropriate quantity of fillings on one slice (spread first with mayonnaise, pesto, soft cheese if using), then top with second slice, oiled side up. Place on press and pull down top to grill, a few minutes until bread has golden brown grill marks and cheese (if using) has melted. OR, place on hot grill pan and weight with another heavy pan bottom or iron bacon press. Turn once during grilling. Note: Avoid applying heavy pressure to the sandwich when grilling – you don’t want to squish it. Sandwiches can also be made open-face style, under the broiler – though in doing so, you’ll make a culinary trip northwest to France and rename it a tartine.

Comments are closed.