August is National Sandwich Month, time to move beyond your standard choices and try something different.
Since August is also National Panini Month, we dragged the panini press out of the closet (no room on the counter!) and invited a group of friends to a “Panini Brunch.” They asked what they could bring, and we told them: whatever you want to drink with your panini.
FOR A PANINI BRUNCH
Starting with ciabatta bread, everyone picks his/her sandwich ingredients from a selection of:
Cheeses: brie, cheddar, gruyère
Meats: ham, turkey
Condiments: fresh basil and dill, cherry preserves, fig jam
Fresh herbs: basil, chives, cilantro, dill, parsley
Veggies: arugula, avocado, caramelized onions, grilled vegetables, pickled jalapeños, sliced tomatoes
Garnishes: olives, cucumber pickles, other pickled vegetables
We added a mixed green salad with a Dijon vinaigrette. For dessert: biscotti and Italian dessert wine (look for Moscato d’Asti or Vin Santo).
A panini press is an electric sandwich grill consisting of two metal plates hinged together. The hot plates are clamped down on a prepared sandwich, pressing it into a dense sandwich while toasting the outsides of the bread with the signature grill marks and warming the filling (in the case of cheese, melting it).
Before sandwich grills, toasters or griddles were used to make toasted sandwiches. Thomas Edison invented an early sandwich grill in the 1920s, but it didn’t take off commercially.
Fast forward: Sandwiches toasted in a panini press became popular in Italian bars and cafés in the 1970s and 1980s. The trend spread internationally, and in another decade, panini presses could be found in appliance departments across the U.S.
The sandwich grill—the panini press is the Italian version— made it possible to brown two slices of bread at the same time.
Panino means “little bread” in Italian, and literally refers to a roll (a “little loaf”). Panino imbottito. “stuffed panino,” refers to the sandwich, but the word panino is also often used alone in context to refer to the sandwich.
In Italian, panino is singular, panini is plural. English speakers adapted the words: panini for singular, panini for plural.
The bread is important. It needs to be bread sturdy like ciabatta, yet soft enough to allow grill marks (crisp-crust baguette doesn’t work). Ciabatta isn’t an “accessory” bread: It adds flavor to the sandwich.
Reconsider buying standard deli meats and cheeses that are thinly sliced. You need more substantial slices of meat in order to give the best texture to the panini the best texture. Use “dinner slices.”
Use other condiments. Save the everyday mustard and mayo for untoasted sandwiches. Consider flavored mayo (jalapeño, wasabi), along with chutney, majo-jam mixtures, honey mustard (make your own by blending Dijon and honey) and preserves.
MORE SANDWICH IDEAS
Don’t want panini? How about:
Award-Winning Peanut Butter Sandwich Recipes
Gourmet Grilled Cheese Sandwich Recipes
Lamb Sandwich Recipe
Naan Bread Sandwiches
The history of sandwiches
The different types of sandwiches
And don’t overlook:
 A panino of turkey, cheddar and sliced apple (photo courtesy USApple.org). One of our favorites: turkey, gruyère, caramelized onions and tomato (photo courtesy Rick’s Picks).  Grilled veggies (photo courtesy PotsAndPans.com).  A panini press (photo courtesy Breville).