The Perfect Panini Party

We are obsessed by panini. And why not? They’re crispy and melty, crunchy and soft. You can dress them up for company or serve them to your kids in less than 10 minutes.

If they walked and wore pants, we’d consider marrying them.  Seriously, we could do worse than the hard-working, comforting panini for life companions.

Panini are really humble grilled cheese sandwiches that took a sophisticated turn through Italy. But foodies are a fickle bunch and Italian wasn’t enough. We mixed up ingredients, added layers and hot, crispy sandwiches became the rage.

Of course, must-have equipment couldn’t be far behind. Special panini pans and presses are everywhere, but really, all you need is a frying pan, a lid and a can to weigh it down. You’ll miss the pretty grill marks, but it’ll be just as delicious.

Here are our favorites for appetizer, main course and dessert panini. For a breakfast variation, try this scambled egg version.

Fig and Prosciutto Panini

Serves 4 as an appetizer

  • 4 tablespoons fig preserves
  • 8 slices sourdough bread
  • Butter
  • 8 slices prosciutto
  • 4 slices provolone cheese

Spread preserves on one side of each slice of bread and butter on the other. Place on work surface fig-side up. Top four of the slices with 2 slices of prosciutto and 1 slice provolone each. Cover each with a slice of fig-side down bread. Place sandwich on panini press. Grill until cheese is melted and the crust golden brown. Medium heat works best. Slice in half and serve with a mesclun salad, dotted with fresh figs.

Vegetarian Panini

Serves 4

  • Olive oil
  • 4 large naan (Indian flat bread)
  • 4-5 tablespoons roasted red pepper spread
  • 1 eggplant, sliced lengthwise and grilled
  • 1 zucchini, sliced lengthwise and grilled
  • 8 ounces mushrooms, sliced and sautéed
  • 8 slices fresh mozzarella cheese

Brush olive oil on one side of each slice of naan and smear the other side with red pepper spread. Sandwich the eggplant, zucchini, mushrooms and cheese between the red pepper-spread sides. Place in a panini press until top is crispy and cheese melted. Slice into quarters to serve.

Roast Beef Panini

Serves 4

  • Butter
  • 8 slices sourdough bread
  • 3-4 tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • ½ pound thinly sliced roast beef
  • 4 slices sharp cheddar cheese
  • 1 onion, thinly sliced and sautéed

Spread butter on one side of each bread slice and mustard on the other side. With mustard-side up, top four bread slices with roast beef, sauteed onion and cheese. Cover each with a slices of bread, mustard-side down. Place in panini press until top is crispy and cheese melted. Slice in half to serve.

Nutella Banana Dessert Panini

Serves 4

  • Butter
  • 4 tablespoons Nutella
  • 2 bananas, sliced
  • 8 slices challah or brioche

Spread butter on one side of each challah slice and Nutella on the other. Top four of the Nutella-up slices with bananas, cover with a Nutella-down slice and grill on a panini press over medium-low heat. When the chocolate is oozing and the top is crispy brown, serve. To up the decadence, add a dollop of whipped cream, crème fraiche or ice cream.