Prepping a Prized Panini


Summer is the time when lunch takes center stage. It's when you're most inclined to invite weekend guests; you may rent a house near the beach or a lake, which becomes a magnet for family and friends.

If you're like me, you spend weekend mornings outdoors. By noon, you want to dazzle everyone with lunch in an instant. For that reason, the best purchase I ever made was a panini maker. I've gotten more use from this appliance than you can imagine.

Paninis are an Italian sandwich made on a small loaf of bread or roll, cut horizontally and filled with meat or cheese. The bread is pressed with some weight on a grill. They can be made on a special appliance, or on ridged stovetop griddles or in frying pans. Some people prepare them on barbecue grills.

In summer, I keep plenty of items on hand that beg to be stuffed into sandwiches: sliced tomatoes, pickles, pitted olives, bean sprouts, cucumbers. Good melting cheeses are mozzarella, Swiss, cheddar, brie (rind removed), feta or goat cheese. Besides mustard and mayo, I use pesto or tapenade as spreads.

The night before guests arrive, I often grill or roast several vegetables. At lunch, I pop them on a roll with cheese.

Leftover steak also shines inside of paninis. Even cold cuts excel when pressed into service.

At lunch, I place a variety of tempting sandwich stuffings on a platter and let my friends pile their own ingredients on their favorite bread.

Then, for the preparation:

· If using a panini maker, follow manufacturer's instructions. (With this appliance, you don't need to flip the sandwiches.)

· If preparing paninis on a ridged stovetop griddle or frying pan, you may need some oil to avoid bread from sticking. Apply weight to top of sandwich by pressing down on it with a cast-iron pot. Flip panini halfway through preparation.

· To avoid burning yourself, use a wooden or silicone spatula when handling hot paninis.

· Paninis are ready when the bread browns, cheese melts or interior ingredients are warm.

· Give guests a huge salad to nibble on while waiting for their paninis to heat.

Italian-Style Panini


1 lb. loaf peasant bread, sliced
11/2 lbs. mozzarella, thin slices
2-3 tomatoes, sliced thin
1/4 lb. pitted olives, sliced
1 bunch basil leaves, rinsed and dried

Cut extra-long bread slices in half. Layer ingredients between the slices of bread and grill.

Serves 5 to 6.

Smoked-Turkey Panini


1 lb. loaf sourdough bread, sliced
1 small jar honey mustard
11/2 lbs. smoked turkey, sliced thin
1/2 red onion, sliced thin
6-8 Romaine lettuce leaves, cut in half, rinsed and dried on paper towels

Cut extra-long bread slices in half. Spread honey mustard on bread. Layer remaining ingredients between the slices of bread and grill.

Serves 5 to 6.

Grilled-Vegetable Panini


11/2 lbs. grilled or roasted vegetables, prepared in advance. Vegetables can be homemade or store bought. To yield 11/2 lbs. cooked vegetables, you'll need 3 lbs. raw veggies. For great-tasting results, use a variety of zucchini, summer squash, eggplant, mushrooms, peppers, onions or asparagus
1 lb. loaf whole-wheat bread, sliced
white cheddar cheese, sliced thin
Layer vegetables and cheese between the slices of bread and grill.

Jewish-Deli Panini


1 lb. loaf of rye bread, sliced
1 jar brown mustard
11/2 lbs. pastrami, sliced thin
20-24 dill pickle rounds, patted dry with paper towels
1/2 lb. sauerkraut, drained

Spread mustard on the bread slices. Layer the remaining ingredients between the slices of bread and grill.

Serves 5 to 6.

Linda Morel is a writer based in New York City. E-mail her at: [email protected]


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