It is hard to tell just when panini became a household name, but over the last several years these beloved sandwiches have been growing in popularity. Today, panini are on the menus of a variety of eateries and restaurants. Diners can’t seem to get enough of these toasty and tasty sandwiches.
The term “panini” can be traced back to a 16th century Italian cookbook. However, the first instance of it being used in North America was in 1956.
Depending on what you read or to whom you speak, panini started out as a bread sandwich with only one filling. It was unlikely the sandwich was grilled and it was typically made on the go.
The word “panino” is Italian for small bread roll. “Panini” is the plural form of the word. This is the diminutive form of the word “pane,” which means “bread.”
Popular Italian fillings in a panini are salami, mortadella, porchetta, prosciutto, and various cheeses. However, less ethnic forms of the sandwich have showcased just about every type of filling. Restaurants may offer roast beef, breaded cutlets, cheese blends, or even vegetarian options, dubbed “vegini.”
Individuals no longer have to venture to restaurants or Italian sandwich bars, known as “paninotecas,” to fulfill their panini fix. Cookware manufacturers have recognized the increased interest in grilled, flat sandwiches and have developed panini makers at many different price points.
Electric models are all-in-one contraptions that look similar to a rectangular waffle iron. There are also cast-iron pans that enable home chefs to create a pressed sandwich right on the stovetop. Those who do not have specific panini-making equipment have been known to weigh down a pan on top of another with a brick to create the flattened sandwich effect.
Whichever method of cooking is used, the enjoyment of panini lies in coming up with ingredients to use in the sandwich. For those ready to put their panini makers to good use, try this easy, light, healthy and delicious take on a panino below.
Caprese Salad-Style Panino
Serves 1 to 2
* 2 vine-ripe tomatoes, sliced 1/4-inch thick
* 1/2 pound fresh mozzarella, sliced thinly
* 20 leaves fresh basil
* 1 loaf of ciabatta bread, or desired crusty bread
* Extra-virgin olive oil
* Balsamic vinegar
* Coarse salt and pepper
Heat up a panini maker according to manufacturer’s directions. Grease the insides by brushing on some olive oil.
Cut open the loaf of bread and baste the top and bottom with a little of the extra-virgin olive oil. Layer slices of tomato, mozzarella and basil on the bottom half of the bread. Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste.
Brush the outside of the sandwich with more olive oil and place on the panini maker to cook, until the crust is golden brown and crispy, and the cheese inside is melted.
Whisk together equal parts of the olive oil and balsamic vinegar with a small amount of salt and pepper to create an easy balsamic vinaigrette. Use as a dipping sauce for pieces of the panini.