A panini is an Italian-inspired sandwich that is pressed together. Paninis are heated on both sides at the same time, unlike a grilled cheese that is fried on the stovetop. A secondary skillet, or panini press, adds weight and heat to cook both sides at the same time.
Heating the Press
A variety of panini presses are available. If you don't have a press, use another skillet to sit on the sandwich while it is grilling. You can also purchase an iron press that you heat on the stove top. Very expensive panini presses may be self-heating, with a dial that allows you to turn the heat to low, medium or high. The heat of the press will depend on what you are cooking, and how toasted you want the sandwich to be.
Prepared Sandwich Ingredients
When you have ingredients that are prepared ahead of time, such as grilled meats, or something mixed like a grilled chicken with red and green peppers, the press only needs to be on medium heat. For these types of sandwiches, the press only needs to toast the bread and melt any cheese. It doesn't need to be hot enough to cook through the food.
There are a few ways to use vegetables in panini sandwiches. You can cook them ahead of time, allow them to cook fully while the sandwich is being pressed or keep the press on low to lightly toast the bread and melt the cheese. Keeping items such as tomatoes or spinach in the center of the sandwich will prevent it from becoming wilted or over cooked. As an alternative, add these items later. A lower heated press is also good for thinner sandwiches, or sandwiches with less meat within. Create paninis with pita bread or biscuits at a lower heat setting to prevent burning the bread. You can also make panini dessert sandwiches by cooking brownie mix on the press and placing frozen yogurt in between after it is cooked.
Focaccia is ideal to use for panini sandwiches. It adds its own layer of texture and flavor. Focaccia also withstands the high heat press very well, as do many whole grain or hearty breads. Sour dough, rye and French bread are all suitable for high-heat panini recipes.