I am ambivalent when it comes to sandwiches – will eat them, if I can’t find any other healthy options but they are not my favorite dish for sure. However, when it comes to Panini, it is totally different – I absolutely adore these hot sandwiches. Traditionally, Panini is prepared with Italian bread like Ciabatta or Focaccia. I prefer it with Focaccia as it is softer and more moist than the Ciabatta. However, there is no hard and fast rule about the bread and it can be prepared using any bread that you like, just that it has to be able to hold the fillings and has to be flat, so that it can be grilled evenly. I have used different kinds of bread like Focaccia or whole-wheat or multi-grain bread, with equally tasty and satisfying results.
To prepare these sandwiches, I first grill the veggies, like zucchini, summer or yellow squash, onions etc. Cut them into thin slices (vertical slices for long-elongated veggies like zucchini and horizontal for round-ones like onion). Coat them well with a tsp of olive oil, salt, pepper and optionally, Italian seasoning. Heat the grill-pan (I use something similar to this and grill the veggies on the pan, atleast 4 mins on each side and do not move the veggies while grilling. In the meanwhile, roast the bell-peppers. If you have a gas-stove, place the bell-pepper directly on the fire and turn it periodically so it is completely charred on all sides. Immediately drop this into a brown paper bag and close the mouth of the bag. Let it sit for about 5 mins and then remove the charred skin – the steam that develops in the pepper will loosen the skin and you will be able to peel the skin off the pepper easily. Cut this into smaller pieces that you can use in your sandwich. If you think this is too much work, just buy the bottled roasted bell-peppers that is available in the supermarket Now you have all the veggies ready and just have to assemble the sandwich.
Brush olive oil on the outer-side of the bread slice (this is optional and can be skipped). You can use pesto (regular or sun-dried tomato) or tapenade as a spread for the bread. Stack the roasted veggies one on top of the other over the bread. You can add a slice of fresh-tomato and a handful of spinach (or salad greens), a slice of your preferred cheese (personally I like mozarella). Place the second slice (optionally brushed with olive oil) on top of stacked-veggies and give it a gentle but firm push. Keep this on the grill-pan and place the grill-press over this. If you don’t have a grill-press, just place a really heavy cooking-utensil on top like an iron pan (dosai kal) or wok (vanali or kadai). Let it cook for about 5 mins on each side.