If not made properly, paninis can turn soggy and unappealing. The key is to choose a dense sandwich bread and apply a thin layer of butter to seal the outside and create a nice crust. The filling is up to you. In general, I like to use layers of different colors. I used a parsley-caper flavored cream cheese, roasted bell peppers, sliced mozzarella, sautéed mushrooms, spinach and sweet basil.
The girls have been wanting to have a picnic for quite some time, but the weather here in Northern California has not been very accommodating. They’ve also had a craving for paninis, and luckily the weather this Memorial Day weekend has been spectacular, so it was time to scratch their itch. It was also a great opportunity to teach the girls about the art of making sandwiches. I made a pitcher of saffron lemonade to go with the sandwiches, and we all sat out in our vegetable garden and marveled at how much the fruit trees have grown. It’s been a wet spring, and the trees look unbelievably healthy. It looks like we’re going to have a lot of mulberries and donut peaches in our future!
Servings: 8 sandwiches
8 sandwich rolls, sliced lengthwise
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 red onion, sliced
2 cups button mushrooms, sliced
2 packages fresh mozzarella cheese, sliced
3 cups fresh baby spinach leaves (pre-packaged)
1 cup sweet basil leaves
8 ounces cream cheese
, at room temperature
1 small lemon, zested and freshly squeezed
1 teaspoon honey
4 tablespoons avocado oil (or more olive oil)
1 teaspoon sea salt (or regular salt)
1-½ cups flat-leaf parsley
2 tablespoons nonpareil capers
½ cup coarse grain mustard
4 tablespoons butter, softened to room temperature
¼ teaspoon black pepper
2 bell peppers (red and orange), roasted, skinned, seeded and sliced
For the panini spread:
Blanch (dip for 10 seconds in boiling water then transfer to an ice-cold bath) the parsley, drain, pat dry on a paper towel and roughly chop.
In a mini-food processor or mini-blender, combine the blanched, chopped parsley, lemon juice and lemon zest. Pulse and slowly add the avocado oil until it becomes a thick paste. Season with sea salt and pepper.
In a bowl, combine the green mixture with cream cheese and honey. Add the capers.
Roasting peppers (check the tip section for the oven method): Stem and wash the peppers, pat dry and brush with oil. Place a grill on your stove and char all the skin of the pepper. Wrap in aluminum foil. Let cool for about 5-10 minutes until you can handle it without discomfort. Clean the pepper using a knife; the skin will come right off. Seed it and slice the flesh into long strips.
For the button mushrooms: In a saucepan, heat the olive oil. Add the red onions, stir until light golden, then sauté the mushrooms for about 3 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Remove from the heat and transfer to a plate.
Preheat your panini press.
Spread mustard on one side of the bread.
Spread a thin layer of butter on the crust side of the bread. Place one piece of bread (the one without mustard), butter side down onto the hot grill. Layer the sandwich with the spread, add 2 slices of mozzarella, some mushrooms and red onions, a few slices of red bell peppers, 2-3 basil leaves and tightly pack spinach leaves. Close the sandwich with a second piece of bread. Spread a thin layer of butter on the crust side of the bread and close the panini press and cook until you get grill marks (about 3-4 minutes). Remove from the machine. Let the panini cool a bit and cut the sandwich in half on the bias.
Serve with potato chips on the side.
I use Cuisinart panini press. This is my favorite brand of panini maker; 2 kinds of plates are provided and they are removable and easy to wash. This is very convenient when you're making sandwiches for a large crowd. You could also use a griddle pan and press the sandwich using a cast iron press or any other weight.
I use parsley stems as well as the leaves, because that's where the flavor is the most potent. If you don't have any curly parsley, you can use other herbs such as cilantro, flat-leaf parsley or basil.
I roasted the peppers on the stove. Here's Carole's oven method for roasting peppers:
The oven method works well for chiles, garlic and tomatoes.
Preheat your oven to 450°F. Stem and seed the peppers. Cut them in half and spread them evenly on a cookie sheet, in a single layer with the skin side up. Roast the peppers for about 4-5 minutes until the skins blister. Watch carefully so they don't burn. Place the roasted peppers in a plastic bag and seal the bag. After about ten minutes, just take them out of the bag and the skins come right off under running water. Works great!
I use avocado oil because of its exquisite artichoke-like aroma and its thick consistency. Since this oil is fairly expensive, I only used it for the spread. You can find it at most specialty food stores or online.
I buy long sandwich rolls at Costco; they're sold by the dozen.