Maybe you are sick of the same old turkey sandwich day after day. Maybe you are tired of heating up your kitchen with the stove. Or maybe you want to impress the heck out of some dinner guests with a truly different dessert.
May we introduce you to the panini press? Yes, one small appliance, many fabulous uses.
There are few Americans today who are not familiar with panini. Though the Italian word loosely means “sandwiches,” in the U.S. it has come to almost always mean a hot pressed sandwich prepared on some kind of grill. They’ve been popular for about a decade, and you can buy the sandwiches everywhere from generic airport lunch counters to hip wine bars.
But it’s easy-panini to make them at home.
And sandwiches are just the start. Learn how to use a panini press – a close relative of the countertop grill – and you can pretty much make a full dinner, often faster and with less mess than with more traditional cooking methods.
“You can do chicken, you can do vegetables, you can do pancakes if you have a griddle attachment,” says Kathy Strahs, who writes a blog called Panini Happy. “It actually can replicate quite a few objects you may already have in your house – a toaster, a griddle, obviously a grill.”
And did we mention show-stopping desserts?
You can buy an electric panini press for as little as $40, or as much $300; the models around $100 often offer the most versatility at the best price.
Most of the clam-shaped devices have ridges (though some are flat and griddle-like) and heat up on both the top and bottom grill plates, so they cook really fast.
Once you have the equipment, start off with a simple sandwich.
Jason Denton, often credited with kicking off a panini craze when he opened the tiny ’ino in New York’s Greenwich Village in 1998, says less is more. “We try to use really high-quality ingredients and try not to do too much to them,” he says. Three items on the sandwich is the best balance, he says.
When it comes to cooking, remember the object is to heat the sandwich, not grill it to death, Denton says.
And please, be kind to your creation when you close the lid.
“There might be a misconception about it being called a press,” Strahs said. “You see someone applying all kinds of pressure and really slamming that thing down.”
Pressed Hash Browns
Start to finish: 10 minutes Servings: 4
2 medium russet potatoes, peeled
1 tablespoon butter, melted
Salt and ground black pepper, to taste
Start with a cold panini press or countertop grill.
Using a box grater, grate the potatoes directly onto the grill in four piles. Gently shape the mounds into flattish rounds. Drizzle each mound with a bit of the butter, then sprinkle with salt and pepper. Close the panini press or grill and turn on. Cook until crispy and browned, about 6 to 7 minutes. Serve immediately.
Note: To make the recipe even easier, substitute frozen shredded potatoes. To do this, arrange 1/2 cup mounds of frozen shredded potatoes on the press, then close the cover and cook until lightly browned. Open the press and add another 1/2 cup of frozen shredded potatoes to each, then repeat cooking until very crisp. This two-step method is important, as frozen shredded potatoes compress more than fresh during cooking.
Nutrition information per serving (values are rounded to the nearest whole number): 171 calories; 27 calories from fat (16 percent of total calories); 3 g fat (2 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 8 mg cholesterol; 33 g carbohydrate; 4 g protein; 2 g fiber; 70 mg sodium.
Start to finish: 20 minutes Servings: 6
2 sheets frozen puff pastry, thawed according to package directions (each 17.3-ounce package contains 2 sheets)
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup sour cream
2 tablespoons orange marmalade
1 tablespoon honey
Two 6-ounce packages fresh raspberries
Heat a panini press or countertop grill.
Cut each sheet of puff pastry into nine 3-by-3-inch squares.
Working in batches according to how many squares will fit on your press at once, cook the pastry squares with the cover set gently down on them until lightly browned and cooked through, about 3 to 4 minutes. As each batch cooks, transfer the squares to a plate to cool, then set aside.
To make the filling, in a large bowl use an electric mixer to whip the heavy cream until stiff peaks form. Fold in the sour cream, orange marmalade and honey.
To assemble the napoleons, spread a layer of the whipped cream over 6 of the pastry squares. Top each with a few of the berries, then another square of pastry. Repeat with another layer of whipped cream, fruit and a third pastry square. Finish the napoleons with a final layer of cream, then fruit. Dust with powdered sugar.
Nutrition information per serving (values are rounded to the nearest whole number): 287 calories; 196 calories from fat (28 percent of total calories); 22 g fat (13 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 68 mg cholesterol; 22 g carbohydrate; 3 g protein; 0 g fiber; 92 mg sodium.
Grilled Halloumi, Apple And Honey
Start to finish: 15 minutes Servings: 4
1 firm, tart apple (such as Granny Smith), quartered and cored
8-ounce package halloumi cheese, cut into 8 slices
2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons torn fresh basil
Ground black pepper, to taste
Slices of crusty bread, to serve
Heat a panini press or countertop grill to medium-high.
Slice each apple quarter into 3 slices. Arrange the slices on the grill, lower the top and cook for 2 to 3 minutes, or until just tender and lightly browned on the outside. Arrange the slices on a serving platter.
Use a paper towel to wipe the grill to remove any moisture left by the apples. Add the cheese slices, lower the top and cook until browned on both sides, about 3 to 4 minutes. Arrange the cheese slices on the platter with the apples.
Drizzle the apples and cheese with the honey, then sprinkle with basil and pepper. Serve with the bread.
Note: Here’s proof that you can craft an elegant appetizer using nothing but a panini press.
This recipe uses halloumi, a Greek cheese that stands up to the heat of the press. Unlike most cheeses, halloumi will soften but not melt under heat. This makes it ideal for grilling directly on the panini press. The cheese also can broiled or grilled on a traditional gas or charcoal grill.
This recipe calls for arranging all of the grilled ingredients on a platter and letting your guests assemble their own. Alternatively, top each slice of bread with a bit of the cheese and a slice of apple, then garnish each with the basil, pepper and honey.
Nutrition information per serving (values are rounded to the nearest whole number): 398 calories; 212 calories from fat (53 percent of total calories); 24 g fat (14 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 57 mg cholesterol; 31 g carbohydrate; 20 g protein; 2 g fiber; 1,012 mg sodium.