You don’t need a fancy panini press to make the famous flat Italian sandwich that’s been sweeping every restaurant, frozen food section and Food Network show over the last few years.
I use a George Foreman Grill. Every college student has one. It’s cheap. It works.
You need good bread, firm tomatoes and fresh mozzarella to make it work. You also need fresh basil, but dried basil will work in a pinch. The result, which is perfect for those meat-free days.
Dish #9 — Tomato and mozzarella panini
About 20 minutes — About $10 — Serves 1
You start with the right bread. Here in Boston, we have Iggy’s. It’s the best. High-end restaurants use it instead of baking their own loaves.
Cut the bread at an angle using a serrated knife. Cutting it at an angle gives you more surface area for your other ingredients.
Using a brush or the reverse side of a teaspoon, spread some extra virgin (dark colored!) olive oil over the surface of the bread. Don’t overdo it. Just a little.
Shake some coarse salt, black pepper, oregano, basil and — if you want — some crushed red pepper over each side.
Cut some tomato slices. Half to 3/4-inch wide are fine. Lay them on the bread. Do the same with the fresh mozzarella. Fresh mozzarella is available in any grocery store cheese section. If you’re at a nice store or specialty cheese shop, buy the store made or “loose” stuff. Whole Foods sells good fresh mozzarella in containers. If you’re at a “regular” grocery store, I’d stick with a brand name like Bel Gioioso, which makes a very good cheese.
Fresh basil leaves are recommended for this dish. It can be an added expense, especially if you’re just cooking for one, but it’s a flavor that you won’t regret having.
Drizzle about a teaspoon of olive oil between the tomatoes and the cheese. Close the sandwich and brush on more olive oil on each side of the sandwich. This helps it cook in the grill. More salt, pepper and herbs on each side.
What I like to do here is plan ahead. Nine times out of 10, I just want to eat the panini right away, but the panini cooks better if you wrap it in foil and put it in the fridge for a day. Seriously. Maybe you should prepare two sandwiches, make one now and save one. I like it.
Either way, when you’re ready to cook, preheat the Foreman Grill for a few minutes. Plop the sandwich on there, and make sure nothing slides off as you firmly close the top over the panini. I find that a wooden spoon (just don’t leave it still for too long) will help balance the sandwich without burning your hand.
Let it cook and sizzle and toast for about 10 minutes, applying some firm pressure every now and then. If you did it right, the sandwich comes out browned, slightly flattened, and everything is still inside, hot and ready to eat.
This is a delicious sandwich that’s healthier than most things you’ll find at a restaurant, and it certainly beats cold cuts in that department.
Oh, and one thing I forgot to mention that a friend reminded me of — the sandwich also tastes great cold! You don’t even need to grill it.