In Auburn, Alabama, where I went to college, there’s a fantastic lil place called Bizilia’s Cafe. They have some amazing paninis, wraps, coffee, muffininis, and more. In case you are unfamiliar with a muffinini, it’s where they take chocolate muffins and press them in a panini press (making the chocolate chips all gooey) and then slice them and put whipped cream in between the two halves. It’s basically one of the greatest food inventions since sliced bread. Maybe even greater.
Today, however, we will be focusing on the more traditional panini. I got a panini press as a wedding present and thought, “I doubt I’ll ever use this. Should I take it back and exchange it?” Well for whatever reason we decided to keep it, and I am SO GLAD we did. If you don’t have one, I recommend that you get one (like, tomorrow). It magically takes regular, boring sandwiches and turns them into culinary delights. We use ours all the time.
The one pictured above is one of our favorites (even if it is vegetarian). It’s very simple, yet more sophisticated than a PBJ. When I made this, I used store-bought pesto, but the recipe below includes how to make your own pesto if you want to. It’s also much better if you use fresh mozzarella and not the kind that comes pre-sliced. It just doesn’t melt the same…or taste the same, if you ask me.
- 4 slices rye or sourdough bread
- 4 quarter-inch slices of fresh mozzarella
- 1 tomato, cut into thick slices
- 1/2 cup fresh basil pesto, recipe follows (or use the store-bought stuff, it's really just as good!)
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Extra-virgin olive oil
- 1/2 cup pine nuts
- 2 cups fresh basil leaves
- 1 cup fresh Italian parsley leaves
- 1/2 cup Parmesan or Romano
- 2 garlic cloves
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- If making your own pesto -- Toast pine nuts in a skillet over medium heat until fragrant, about 5 minutes. Combine all pesto ingredients in a food processor and pulse until well combined but still rough-textured.
- If you have a panini press, turn it on to warm up; otherwise, set a skillet over medium heat.
- Assemble sandwich by smearing insides of bread slices with pesto. Arrange a layer of sliced tomato and season with a few turns of fresh pepper. Layer the mozzarella slices over the top and then place another piece of bread on top to make the sandwich.
- Drizzle olive oil over skillet's surface and place sandwiches on the hot skillet or panini press. If using a skillet, place another heavy skillet over the top to form a "press". Turn after 2 to 3 minutes and replace weight. The sandwich is ready when golden brown and mozzarella has melted around the edges.
Source: An Edible Symphony