Grilled, pressed or baked, these hearty sandwiches make dinnertime easy
‘When the cheese is rolling out the sides of the bread and all over the pan, you know you’ve got something really good,” says Tony Ferrante, who owns Ferrante’s Marketplace Café on Spokane’s South Hill along with his wife, Robbie.
Ferrante’s serves more than 10 kinds of panini. Ferrante likes these classic Italian grilled sandwiches because they can be simple or complex and everyone loves them.
“You can throw 10 of them on a cookie sheet and serve a crowd,” he says.
When it comes to making grilled sandwiches at home, Ferrante says “People should be creative. Use leftovers, chicken, roast beef, deli meats.”
And don’t skimp on the cheese. He recommends Fontina, brie, whole milk mozzarella and provolone cheeses for their excellent melting properties.
“Good quality bread is the key,” Ferrante says. Focaccia bread, dinner rolls, baguettes and French rolls work well for Italian style panini, just make sure the bread is sturdy enough to hold the ingredients.
For other hot sandwiches, experiment with different flavors and textures of bread. For example, grill turkey, apples and brie on cinnamon raisin bread, or fill a buttery croissant with ham and cheese and bake it in the oven.
Try pita bread, tortillas, sliced Boboli pizza crust and even waffles grilled with your favorite fillings. Mix and match French bread and rye or pumpernickel on the same sandwich for a visual treat. Or brush bread with garlic olive oil or butter and dried herbs before grilling for extra flavor.
“Think about foods you enjoy and present them in a different way,” suggests Main Market Co-op deli chef/manager Bryan McDirmid. If you like pizza, use all of your favorite pizza ingredients to build a sandwich.
Main Market deli sells an eggplant sandwich which is a play on the Italian eggplant parmesan dish, with crispy, oven-baked eggplant, marinara and smoked mozzarella. The pulled pork sandwich with pickled carrots and cilantro is a take on the bánh mi, a traditional Vietnamese sandwich.
“Fresh herbs are very important. They make things taste good without adding cheese or more fat,” says McDirmid.
And learn how to pickle vegetables, he recommends. Carrots, garlic, onions and peppers are all easy to pickle and add great flavor and texture to sandwiches.
Don’t be afraid to combine sweet and savory fillings. Thinly sliced fruit, jams and chutneys are excellent additions to roast chicken, smoked meats and flavorful cheeses. Vegetables should be thinly sliced and can be quickly sautéed, roasted or used raw for extra texture.
Make sure all meat is cooked before adding it to a grilled sandwich.
“You can cook panini on a skillet, sandwich grill or in the oven. It depends on what you want it to look like,” explains Ferrante.
A sandwich grill with a heated plate on the top and bottom will give nice grill marks, but to cook a large number of sandwiches at once, the oven is more practical. Place the sandwiches on a cookie sheet greased with a little olive oil and weight them down with stacked oven-proof pans or cookie sheets. Bake in a 300- to 325-degree oven for 8 to 10 minutes or until the cheese melts.
For best results using a skillet, keep a low, consistent heat. Covering the skillet with a lid or cookie sheet traps the heat and helps heat the inside of the sandwich. Flip the sandwich over when the bottom side is golden brown.
An old-fashioned square waffle maker leaves a fun, grid pattern on sandwiches, and makes quick work of dinner by grilling up four sandwiches at a time.
If you’re looking to purchase a sandwich grill, here are a few things to keep in mind:
•Look for one with a thermostat control so you can adjust the temperature. This allows the flexibility to cook other items like meat or waffles.
•A nonstick surface is helpful, and make sure the grill is easy to clean.
•A hinged or locking lid delivers better results by heating the entire surface of the sandwich and applying pressure during cooking.
The Kitchen Engine carries electric panini makers, but owner Nicole Frickle prefers the stovetop cast iron griddle with a heavy grill press lid.
“The bare cast iron retains a smoky grilled flavor and makes your food better each time you use it,” Frickle says. “I like to say that using the cast iron press is like the flavor you would get from a charcoal barbecue without the fuss.”
Courtesy of Tony Ferrante, owner of Ferrante’s Marketplace Café
For each sandwich:
1 herbed focaccia bun (or French roll)
3 meatballs, cooked
4 roasted red pepper strips
1 slice of cheddar cheese
1 slice of provolone cheese
Spread spaghetti sauce on bottom layer of bread. Add meatballs, red pepper strips and cheeses. Add top layer of bread. Brush outsides of bread with olive oil. Cook in sandwich grill or in 325-degree oven for 7 to 10 minutes.
Yield: 1 sandwich
Artichoke Panini with Creamy Pesto
Courtesy of Tony Ferrante
For each sandwich:
1 herbed focaccia bun (or French Roll)
1 cup pesto
2 tablespoons cream
4-5 marinated artichoke heart quarters
4-5 sun dried tomato strips (1 whole cut in strips, see note)
2-3 slices whole milk mozzarella cheese
Add cream to pesto and stir. Spread creamy pesto on bottom layer of bread. Store unused portion in refrigerator for later use. Add artichokes, tomatoes and mozzarella. Brush outsides of bread with olive oil. Cook in sandwich grill until cheese is melted or 325-degree oven for 7 to 10 minutes.
Note: Substitute Roma tomatoes for milder flavor.
Yield: 1 sandwich
Grilled Apple Panini
Courtesy of Nicole Frickle, The Kitchen Engine who says “For dipping I love to make a quick homemade applesauce. Just use a blender and blend a few apples. Heat on the stove while making panini.”
1 loaf fresh sourdough bread
1 small onion
1 cup sour cream
1 stick butter
1 package of turkey bacon
Equal parts cheddar and mozzarella cheese
1-2 apples, thinly sliced
Mince onion and stir into sour cream. Grill turkey bacon and apple slices. Set aside. Slice bread and coat one slice with onion-sour cream mixture on one side and butter on the other side. Place buttered side of bread on sandwich grill or skillet. Add cheese, grilled apples, bacon, more cheese and bread. Cook until golden and cheese is melted. Serve with warm applesauce for dipping.
Yield: 4-6 servings
Eggplant Marinara Baguette
Courtesy of Chef Bryan McDirmid, Main Market Co-op
1 baguette, sliced in 6-inch sections
4-5 cloves garlic, minced
¼ cup fresh marjoram, chopped
½ cup red wine
1 28-ounce can chopped tomatoes
Salt, pepper and sugar
1 medium eggplant
1 tablespoon fresh thyme
1 tablespoon olive oil
2-3 slices of smoked mozzarella or provolone cheese
1 Roma tomato, sliced
Prepare the marinara: Sauté the garlic and marjoram over medium-low heat until soft. Deglaze the pan with red wine, cook until the volume is reduced by half. Add the tomatoes. Simmer 3-4 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and a little sugar if necessary.
Slice the eggplant in 1/2-inch thick slices. Toss with olive oil, fresh thyme and salt and pepper. Place on a baking sheet and cook in 375-degree oven until crispy, about 30 minutes. Remove eggplant, leave oven on.
For each sandwich, spread marinara on both sides of 6-inch baguette, layer with crispy eggplant, tomatoes and cheese. Place on baking sheet in 375-degree oven for 3-5 minutes.
Main Market Aioli
Courtesy of chef Bryan McDirmid. Use this aioli in place of mayonnaise on any sandwich.
1-1½ cups canola or other neutral oil
1 egg yolk (see note)
1 clove garlic, finely minced
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
Juice from ½ lemon
1 pinch salt, pepper and paprika
Whisk together all of the ingredients except the oil. Slowly drizzle in the oil while continuing to whisk to emulsify the aioli. Variations: Add soy sauce to pair with Asian foods or add fresh chopped herbs and serve on grilled fish. Store in refrigerator.
Yield: about 1½ cups.
Note: The USDA warns consumers against eating raw eggs.
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