Pressed for dinner ideas: Panini to the rescue

C8F_4349_panini

One bread, five different panini. Breakfast, lunch, dinner, and even a bonus dessert, there’s a panini that’s just right for you. And you, and you and yes, you!

I’ve been making panini like mad for a few months now, and  I’m so happy. I’m not a very big fan of cold lunches and cold sandwiches in general. I like a nice hot lunch, and a soup/sandwich lunch is heaven to me. Add in the melted, juicy goodness and crisp-crunchy crust of a panini and, well, I just might be tempted to be a bit of a devil even in my little heaven.

So, what exactly is a panini, anyway? The ever-popular Wikipedia has a nice page on panini, but the short version is that panini are grilled sandwiches, most often with meats and cheese. The cool thing about panini is that they’re grilled on both sides at once with a panini press. Not only does this make  for a fantastic grilled crust, but the sandwich gets squished together, the flavors blend together, the juices and cheeses combine, and you go to panini nirvana.

While you can press panini simply between two hot pans, you can purchase special panini presses that really bring your sandwich-making to new heights. Cast-iron presses are quite popular. They’re heavy, flat, and ridged, with a handle on top. You heat the press on a burner, then place it on top of your sandwich while the bottom cooks on another ridged pan. They work beautifully; but they’re somewhat small, and barely cover two “real” sized sandwiches.

Enter the Cuisinart Griddler GR-4N. This sleek baby has it all. Large surface, two different grill options (including panini plates – did I mention they’re dishwasher safe?), open-face option, and that joy of joys for panini makers: a floating hinge that allows you to grill juicy, thick sandwiches. More on that later.

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What a chrome beauty!

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Check out the easy-to-use controls. Just pick your setting – Grill, or Griddle – and set the temperature using the right or left dial, depending on which setting you chose. It’s so easy a caveman (read hungry teenager) can do it.

Before you get to use this flashy sports car of a grill though, you need to get some bread. You could use store-bought artisan bread, but I really love our Rustic Sourdough Bread. It’s crusty, tangy, and so flavorful. It works beautifully for all of the savory panini I made for this blog.

Once the dough is ready to shape, you’ll want a nice, firm, round boule to slice for your panini. Here’s a quick rundown on how to shape a boule that won’t spread during the bake, but spring upward.

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Start with a nicely risen batch of dough. Turn it out and let it deflate a bit, but don’t punch or press it down too hard.

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Grasp one outside edge of the dough.

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Pull it in to the center of the dough. Tuck it in gently.

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Go back to the outside edge and pull up another section. Bring it to the center and tuck it down. You’re beginning to pull the outside skin of the dough tighter, and build structure into the shape. Think of this like folding the corners of a paper towards the center. It rounds out the shape and makes it stronger.

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See how much rounder the shape is now?

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Here’s the bottom of the finished round.

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Gently turn the boule over, so the smooth side is up and the belly button is down.

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To tighten the boule even further, place your hands on both sides of the ball. Think tucking the sheets under the mattress .

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Tuck the sides under firmly. Turn the boule slightly, and repeat. Turn and tuck until you have gone all around at least once, even twice.

This will tighten up the outside skin and hold the round shape of the boule better. Be careful not to stretch the skin to bursting, though.

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There, a nice tight ball with a firm skin. Place on a parchment-lined sheet to rise as directed in the recipe.

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Bake as directed in the recipe. You can see that my loaf only spread just a bit and has nice lift to it.  Let the loaf cool overnight and meet me back here to make panini!

beep** YOUR ATTENTION PLEASE** There are NO printable versions of the following panini recipes. The ingredients will be listed for each sandwich here in the blog; just make yourself a lovely recipe card to keep. **THANK YOU**beep

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Good morning! Are you ready to begin your panini adventures? Let’s start with a breakfast panini. Here’s what you’ll need per sandwich:
Breakfast Panini
2 eggs, scrambled
3-4 thin slices capocollo ham (a.k.a. capicola; hot or mild, your choice)
2-3 slices fresh tomato
1 ounce sharp cheddar cheese
2 slices bread of your choice
olive oil or butter, for brushing the bread

Make yourself 2 eggs, scrambled. Shape the eggs as you cook them so that they’ll fit nicely on slices of your bread.

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Here are the other players for this sandwich. Nice hot capocolla ham, sharp cheddar cheese from our favorite – Cabot of Vermont – and a couple of cherry tomatoes. Rosemary, who teaches our pasta classes here at King Arthur Flour, says that grape or cherry tomatoes are the only fresh tomatoes she’ll buy during the winter months. If you have lovely winter tomatoes in your area, feel free to use your favorite.

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Preheat your panini grill to medium-high. Cut a couple of slices of your bread, and brush them with olive oil. You certainly could use butter on the bread; I rather like the olive oil flavor on this one.

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Place one slice of bread, oil side down, on the grill. Add pieces of the cheese and place the scrambled eggs on top of the cheese.

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Lay on a few slices of the ham (or meat of your choice), then the tomatoes.

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Add the second slice of bread, oiled side UP, and close the lid of the grill.

Take a close look at the right side of the picture. See how the lid isn’t flat, but pressing down more in the back? This will cause your sandwich to cook differently, front to back; and it leaves poor grill marks on the back end of your panini. So, what’s the key to even pressure?

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It’s a floating hinge. This allows the top portion of the grill to rise up and flatten out, so that it has even contact with the entire top of the panini. Even contact means even cooking. Huzzah for the floating hinge!

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Check it out. With the floating hinge enabled, the press is now even on top of the whole panini, a noticeable difference.  Man, that dangling piece of hot ham nearly had me burning my fingers wanting to grab it for a nibble, but I resisted.

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Oh, ah! Nearly done. You can see that this sandwich suffered a bit when the hinge wasn’t even; the back is less toasty than the front. A few more minutes of cooking will take care of that.

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OH yes! Crispy toasty bread, hot ham and eggs, and melty cheese. What a way to start the day.

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Done and done. Hardly any mess at all.

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If you’re making more panini like I am, just give the plates a quick swipe with a paper towel or damp kitchen towel and keep on grillin’.

NEXT!

Corned Beef and Coleslaw Panini with Honey-Horseradish Mustard (one sandwich)
2 to 3 sliced corned beef
3 tablespoons coleslaw
2 slices bread of your choice (sourdough for me again!)
2 tablespoons hearty deli mustard (the kind with mustard seeds in it)
1 tablespoon prepared horseradish
2 teaspoons honey
olive oil or butter, for brushing the bread

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It was a few days before St. Pat’s when I tested this particular panini, so my corned beef came from the deli. It was beautifully marbled, and full of flavor. Feel free to use leftover corned beef for this, if you’re lucky enough to have some around.

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Remember, bread goes on the grill oil/butter side down.

Add the meat and a generous helping of coleslaw.

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No squished sandwich this time; my hinge is set and ready to go.

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While your panini is grilling you can make the honey-horseradish mustard. Place the honey, mustard, and horseradish in a small bowl and whisk until well combined.

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How’s that for a lovely lunch? The salty corned beef counterpointed with the sweet crunch of coleslaw and the tangy mustard… why oh why did I make just one?!

Back to the grill with me.

Grilled Vegetable Panini (one sandwich)

4 to 6 spears grilled asparagus
2 tablespoons grilled onion
2 to 3 slices fresh tomato
1/4 teaspoon Pizza Seasoning (or your favorite Italian seasoning)
2 to 3 tablespoons shredded cheese (I like mozzarella and Romano)
2 slices bread of your choice
olive oil or butter, for brushing the bread

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I’m guessing you know the grill drill by now. Preheat, place your bread oil-side down, add the cheese.

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Pile on the grilled veggies, and sprinkle with the Pizza Seasoning. Add the top piece of bread and grill.

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The smell of this sandwich nearly drove me mad! Tender grilled veggies gave a smoky goodness to the rich, hearty pizzeria scent of the Pizza Seasoning. The olive-oiled bread and melted cheeses added their notes, and I was barely able to control myself. I’d personally serve this one with a side of marinara for dipping, and an icy cold beer.

Are you stuffed yet? Me neither. Let’s keep going!

Pulled Pork and Pineapple Panini

1/3 cup pulled pork made with your favorite smoky BBQ sauce
2 tablespoons fresh or canned pineapple; chunks are fine, crushed is easier to spread
2 slices bread, your choice

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Mmmm, a whole pot full of pork.

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This sandwich is super popular here at KAF. I bring my husband David’s secret recipe for pulled pork in for potlucks sometimes, and it disappears very quickly. I knew if I started to make panini with it, I’d better make lots! So, two sourdough to start…

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Quickly followed by four on French sandwich bread.

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Hot, smoky, juicy, and a blast of sweet/sour goodness from the pineapple. Truly a dangerous (to the hips) combination. I was right, and the dozen sandwiches I made were gone in as many minutes.

My dearest Andrea doesn’t eat of “our friend the pig,” so here’s a super turkey combination she was fond of.

Turkey, Apple and Brie Panini with Curry Mayonnaise (one sandwich)
3 to 4 slices turkey breast (smoked is nice)
3 to 4 thin slices Granny Smith or other tart apple
1 ounce Brie cheese
2 slices bread of your choice (surprise, I’m using sourdough!)
2 to 3 tablespoons mayonnaise; low-fat is fine
1/4 teaspoon curry powder, to taste
olive oil or butter, for brushing the bread

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Here’s the setup, ready to go. I had a similar pita sandwich a couple of years ago in a school cafeteria, and I find it makes an outstanding panini.

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Bread, cheese, and apple. My apples happened to be very large, so 2 slices were plenty. Adjust as needed, depending on the size of your apples.

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Turkey, top slice of bread, and into the grill with you. The beauty of Brie is in its texture. Look at it just melting away for you.

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Oh, you’re a good sandwich, aren’t you? What more could you need? Curry mayonnaise? Comin’ right up!

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Simple and straightforward. Mix the mayo with the curry in a small bowl. You can serve immediately, but the flavor will deepen over time.

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Man, the toastedness (it’s a new word, I added it to my dictionary) on this bread is just right. Deep golden brown, each ridge a delightful bite of crunchiness.

Last but not least, I did promise a dessert panini. I’m leaving the sourdough behind on this one and using King Arthur’s Classic White Bread. It’s much better suited to the sweet ingredients. Whole wheat and even oatmeal sandwich bread would work well, too.

The Mighty Elvis: Banana, Peanut Butter, Chocolate Panini

1/3 cup peanut butter, smooth or crunchy, use your favorite
1 ripe banana, sliced
1/4 cup chocolate chunks or chips
4  slices bread, your choice
butter, for brushing the bread

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This recipe will make two panini. With this great combination, one just isn’t enough.

Spread the bread with the peanut butter, layer on the chocolate, and add the sliced bananas.

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There you are, banana. I knew I couldn’t forget you.

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Two panini will fit beautifully on this Cuisinart Griddler GR-4N. I can’t rave about the floating hinge enough. Think about how squished a peanut butter sandwich would get on fresh white bread if you used too much pressure. Road kill grill, eh?

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Be still my heart, it’s really the king of panini. I just might end up screaming and crying over this one, wondering if a normally sane woman should throw her unmentionables to a panini in devotion. Wouldn’t that just knock my test kitchen buddies for a loop?!

This concludes our panini adventures for today. Remember, these are now your panini recipes, and you can adjust them to your tastes. But there are so many great panini ideas out there, I’m hoping you’ll take the time to comment and share your favorites. After all, there are 365 days in the year, 3 meals a day, plus dessert. That’s 1,460 panini minimum, so let’s get crackin’.  Can’t wait to hear from you all!

MaryJane Robbins
About

MaryJane Robbins grew up in Massachusetts and moved to Vermont 20 years ago. After teaching young children for 15 years, she changed careers and joined King Arthur Flour in 2005. MaryJane began working on King Arthur Flour's baker’s hotline in 2006, and the blog team ...

comments

  1. Kim

    A) This is the first time I’ve REALLY been tempted to buy a panini grill, and B) Can I have David’s ‘secret’ recipe for pulled pork? Please? Pretty please?
    Oh Kim, even my family (Mom, Dad) doesn’t have the secret recipe. My mom will put in an order when they are coming up to visit, asking for the secret sauce. Sorry I can’t share this time, but the panini grill is a real treat to have, especially as summer and fresh produce gets nearer. ~MaryJane

    KIM, you did it! He shared the recipe, see his comment under The Loving Husband. WOW! ~MaryJane

    Reply
  2. Sarah

    My favorites:
    -Mozzarella/pesto/tomato
    -Grilled eggplant/goat cheese
    -Tart apple/brie/honey
    Ooooh, the eggplant sounds good. Thanks for sharing! ~ MaryJane

    Reply
  3. Kandyce

    We love paninis at our house, we eat them at least 1 meal a week. Our favorites:
    - tomato, mozzarella, & pesto (a classic)
    - turkey, swiss, & black pepper mayo (bacon & tomato if we’ve got it)
    - ham, turkey, provolone, & pickles
    - Nutella & marshmallows (so yummy!)
    Woo hoo for the Nutella! Maybe Nutella and apple someday soon for me. ~ MaryJane

    Reply
  4. Tinky

    I am SO trying that bread next week. And I love your combinations.

    We had Cubanos for supper a couple of night ago–and boy were they good! Here’s the recipe if folks are interested (fewer pix since I was busy writing about Lucy and Desi, but you’ve shown people how to use the press)……..

    http://www.ourgrandmotherskitchens.com/?p=6814

    Thanks for sharing. I’ve only had Cubanos once at home, but I’d love to have more. Road trip! ~ MaryJane

    Reply
  5. Erin R.

    Curry mayonnaise? Asparagus and tomato? CHOCOLATE, PEANUT BUTTER AND BANANA? Oh my goodness. (fans self) I have only recently started in on the panini sanwiches (on my trusty George Foreman grill) and will definitely give these a bash. I did make some freaking amazing grilled French dips earlier this week with pumpernickel bread and leftover roast. So good I made them two nights in a row. I am on the panini train in earnest now.
    I adore a good French Dip sandwich. I may change my dinner plans from burgers to dips. Honey! Run to the store for me! ~ MaryJane

    Reply
  6. Barbara L

    I have this grill and I LOVE it! It is the B-E-S-T Best! It is quick and hot!
    I find that a 50% mix of butter and oilve oil gives me a nice crispy crust.

    Got to try the Mighty Elvis!!
    Viva panini, Viva, viva Paniiiiniiii! Yep, I’m doing my Elvis moves as we speak. ~MaryJane

    Reply
  7. Kristin T

    MMmmmmm….I LOVE panini’s and I am super excited to try these! My two favorites of panini’s are:
    1. turkey, cheddar & mozza cheese, pesto, chopped tomatoes and sweet peppers (SOOOO DELICIOUS!)
    2. sliced/shredded chicken, bacon, honey mustard blend (like the one with the real mustard seeds in it sans horse radish! :)….oh….and cheese (i like colby jack, cheddar, mozza, or swiss)
    I think it’s another panini day for me!

    Reply
  8. The Loving Husband

    While the pulled pork is on the top of my list, I think I have to agree with MaryJane that a change in dinner plans is needed. The french dip sounds awesome. As far as the BBQ sauce goes, my northern tastes like a sweet tomato based sauce to go with the pork and pineapple. My secret recipe is:

    1 bottle of tomato catsup (Heinz 64 ounce)
    1 cup Brown sugar
    1/4 cup of molasses
    1/4 cup white vinegar
    1/4 cup worcestershire sauce
    2 TBS spicy mustard
    2 TBS dried onion flakes
    1/8 tsp hot sauce of your choice
    1 clove of garlic minced
    I put this in a large stock pot and simmer for about 3 hours on low. You will need to stir it every once and while because of the high sugar content it will burn. It goes great on pork, chicken and meatloaf.
    -David
    Be still my heart, you’re sharing the secret recipe?!!! You ARE a good guy. But how am I going to sell it now and make my millions… I mean our millions? :oops: Love you lots! ~Me

    Reply
  9. Gregg

    I’ve owned a Breadman panini maker for several years and it’s one of my favorite appliances. It does a terrific job on Reuben sandwiches and everything else for that matter. I just picked up some capicola a few days ago and will be making the breakfast panini tomorrow morning. Your version of The Elvis has elevated this humble sandwich to a whole new level. Adding cooked bacon will give it Hall of Fame status.
    Folks, MaryJane has left the building. She’s gone to buy BACON! What a great suggestion! ~ MJ

    Reply
  10. Memoria

    I think another interesting factoid is that the word “panini” is the plural form of “panino” (singular) since it is an Italian word. Therefore, the “s” is not a plural marker in Italian as it is in English.

    Thank you for the great ideas on the panini! They look great!
    Thanks for the language lesson, Memoria. It’s great to learn about international foods in other ways besides eating them. :) ~ MaryJane

    Reply
  11. KimberlyD

    Hmmm which one to choose first? They all look delicious! I was thinking I love hot turkey sandwiches with gravy over it, and I always toasted my bread for I like it not to get soggy. I think I will make it into a panini than put the gravy over it.
    That sounds terrific. I like soggy gravy bread myself, but if you want it to stay crisp, I’d go with panini. ~ MaryJane

    Reply
  12. Suzanne

    Oh. My. Gosh. You had me at pulled pork. But, girl, you are a wicked, wicked woman to come up with the Mighty Elvis. Because now I’ll have to have one & there goes another diet blown. And thanks to Erin R. for the tip on using the George Foreman. If I bought a panini maker, there would be trouble in my house!!
    I’ll take the double wicked as a compliment. As the saying goes “Well behaved women rarely make history”. Have a great Elvis experience, and pick up the diet again right afterwards. ~ MaryJane

    Reply
  13. Jules

    Mmmm. Those look delicious! Now that we have the sauce recipe, how do you make the pulled pork? You may as well give up all your secrets! ;-)
    The pulled pork is pretty easy, just salt and pepper on the pork butt, David does two 13# butts at a time on the smoker. He usually starts them at about 7 am and finishes up around 6 pm. Low and slow. And then the feeding frenzy begins!
    ~ MaryJane

    Reply
  14. Kathy - Panini Happy

    Great panini ideas! I’ve got lots of favorites – in fact, a whole panini recipe blog: http://www.paninihappy.com (hope it’s okay to include the link since it’s on topic :-)). I’m looking forward to doing a Bread Week in early May and will definitely be trying the bread recipes you’ve mentioned.
    Kathy, you are very welcome to share your blog with us and our fellow bakers. We’re thrilled, and I know I’ll be checking it out later today. We are taking it easy on Easter, and Panini is on the menu. :) ~ MaryJane

    Reply
  15. Barb

    I have the Griddler (panini press) and it is one of the most used small appliances in my kitchen. I have had it for 2 or 3 years and I love it.
    The sandwiches look great, and I am inspired.

    I think the olive oil results in a crispier toasted outside.

    Reply
  16. Ricardo Neves Gonzalez - Petrópolis - R.J. - Brazil

    Nice bread and varieties we have here in this post. In Brazil Panini bread is not common. We have a French Toasted Slices of bread envolving some mozzarella style and ham slices we call here Misto Quente, something like Hot Mixed Sandwich, but not with those stripes we get over, with Panini Grill.
    I´ll try this recipe and variations!
    Hi Ricardo,
    The mozzarella and ham sounds great. Hope you have fun experimenting. ~ MaryJane

    Reply
  17. Cathy from MD

    Thanks for the new panini ideas. I’ll have to try the chocolate one and the turkey, brie and apple sandwich. I bought a Griddler press last fall, and I am still in love with it. My (current) favorite sandwich is a take on a Cuban-grilled pork tenderloin (cooked right on the press), dill pickles, mustard, ham and swiss.

    Don’t forget that this thing is a great griddle, too. I use it every Sunday morning for pancakes or french toast. It may look small, but there’s plenty of room.
    You’re right Cathy, it is a great grill as well using the other plates. And it doesn’t take as much storage room as many grills. ~ MaryJane

    Reply
  18. Christina

    Oh my goodness, those look incredible! I especially like the brie, turkey, and apple one with the curry mayo. Of course, the banana, peanut butter and chocolate one looks soooo good too. Yum. I guess I have to go get my George Foreman out again. :)

    Christina
    http://www.EasyPaninis.com

    Reply
  19. Annnoe

    After going through 2 panins press’ I gave up. We eat a lot of them. So I bought a flat double cast iron pan it has ridges on one side and flat on the other. Works great and cost a lot less. You need a flat press or another cast iron pan to keep weight on it while it cooks, then flip and repeat.

    Reply
  20. newpanini kid

    i made my first panini today – fresh spinach and gorgonzola cheese – i didn’t have “good” bread – it was a hearty multigrain – the bread was kinda mushy but it was yummy – i guess i should use a different bread, huh? any suggestions?

    Congrats on trying something new – especially something delicious like panini. Check out our panini recipes – any of the three listed will be great for your next grilled sandwich. PJH

    Reply

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