Panini: Gourmet Sandwiches for Dinner

Elevate the everyday sandwich with a little heat and the perfect combination of ingredients.
Panini Gourmet Sandwiches for Dinner

Sandwiches are a standard and expected part of lunch, but they can also be a creative, easy dinner solution? Panini — hot, pressed sandwiches, which originated in Italy — afford a great opportunity to use your favorite ingredient combinations to make a fast, delicious meal.

Follow these techniques, tips and ideas, you'll be making panini like an Italian nonna in no time.

Building a better sandwich

  • Size matters — the thinner the bread slices, the faster the cheese will melt and the quicker the panini filling will cook.
  • Vary the flavors and textures; try whole wheat, oat bran, multi-grain, rye, pumpernickel or sourdough.


  • Don't waste calories on flavorless cheese or cheese products. Use real cheddar, Swiss, fontina, mozzarella and provolone.
  • Shredded cheese melts faster and more evenly than slices. And you need less to cover a larger area.


  • Fresh is best. Ask your deli-man if he has anything that's house-roasted.
  • Smoked salmon, smoked turkey and prosciutto make great panini fillings when used in small quantities. Add sweet greens to balance out their salty flavors.
  • Roast a chicken on Sunday and use it for panini on Monday or Tuesday.


  • The drier the better. Pressing the panini releases moisture that can make your bread soggy. Drained roasted peppers, marinated and drained artichoke hearts, steamed asparagus, thinly sliced red onion and marinated sun-dried tomatoes are good choices. Blot all vegetables dry before adding them.
  • Make garden sandwiches. A vegetarian sandwich with or without cheese can be delicious and will save you calories and fat.


  • Sweet varieties, like mâche and baby spinach, go well with prosciutto and smoked salmon.
  • Spicy greens, like watercress and radish sprouts, go best with roast beef or turkey.

Condiments and flavorings

  • Serve them on the side. Adding wet ingredients such as vinaigrette or mustard can soften the bread too much.
  • Fresh herbs add more flavors: Try basil, thyme, tarragon and dill.

How to make panini
Layer the panini using the bread and filling of your choice. The best panini are as much about bread as they are about filling, so stuff sparingly. The finished sandwich shouldn't end up more than 1 inch thick, including bread. Spray both a large skillet and each side of the sandwich with nonstick cooking spray. Heat the pan over medium heat and when hot, add the sandwich to the pan. Place another heavy skillet, a brick wrapped in foil or a weighted sandwich press on top of the sandwich in order to flatten it against the hot surface. When the bottom half of the sandwich is toasted; remove the weight, flip it over and replace the weight. Cook until both sides of the sandwich are crisp and the cheese begins to melt. Remove the weight, flip the sandwich again, replace the weight and cook 1 minute more.

Panini combinations to try
Once you've learned the basic technique, the panini filling combinations are endless. Experiment until you find your favorites. Here are a few of ours:
  • Pesto, mozzarella and asparagus on multi-grain bread
  • Smoked salmon, goat cheese, baby spinach and basil on focaccia
  • Ham, roasted peppers, mâche and provolone on oat bread
  • Artichoke hearts, roast beef, watercress and Cheddar on pumpernickel
  • Portobello mushroom, prosciutto, tarragon and Swiss on sourdough

Bruce Weinstein and Mark Scarbrough are the authors of Cooking Know-How (Wiley, 2009).

Free Newsletter Get it now