fat free opinions on a food centric life

Panini with Chicken, Pesto & Heirloom Tomatoes

I celebrated yet another birthday this past week — mine.  And although I’ve heard that many women don’t enjoy receiving gifts that have anything to do with kitchens, I’m not one of those women.  To be fair, I’ve worked this out over the years knowing that my husband likes to purchase several gifts instead of one large gift.  You won’t ever find me arguing with that strategy, of course.  But what that does mean is that I usually expect to receive something involving fragrance, or personal "upkeep," a few chocolates, and….

…a trip to Great News, a local cooking store.  I love Great News.  It is beyond rare that I’m not able to find what I need there when a unique type of cookware is called for, an odd ingredient (juniper berries…), or I just want a new pan.  And this year, that would be a panini pan.

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Tah-dah……I just love this green color.  I’m not so in love with how heavy it is, however.  Of course I couldn’t resist putting it on the scale and was surprised to find that it only weighs 12 lbs. It seems heavier.  I’m not going to argue about whether my scale is not accurate because that would mean that I would weigh more than it says I do.  I don’t even want to think about that.  It’s a big problem to begin with.  What was I talking about?  Oh.  The pan.  My cute green pan.    I considered the Le Cruset rectangular pan (also in very cool colors…) but decided upon Mario Batali’s because I love the green, and I loved the price — about half of the cost of the Le Cruset.  The clerk did inform me that a warranty came with the Le Cruset products, but I ended up with the one casserole my mother owned which is now over 50 years old.  I don’t think a warranty is needed.  Do you?

So what do you make with a panini pan?  Paninis, of course.  And no, I didn’t use a recipe.  Yes, recipes are most likely out there, and I’m sure you may even be able to get a panini cookbook, but I don’t need one.  I love making sandwiches, and the combinations are endless.  It depends on what is in the freezer and/or refrigerator.

To inaugurate my new pan, I used chicken breast, basil pesto, fresh mozzarella, heirloom tomatoes, red onions, and a rustic loaf of bread.  I’m drooling just remembering it…

  1. Pound chicken breasts encased in plastic wrap firmly with a rolling pin until flattened.  Salt and pepper them, and add a sprinkling of whatever seasoning you enjoy depending on the other ingredients.
  2. Prepare tomatoes by slicing thickly, and saute briefly in a skillet with a couple of splashes of olive oil and some balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper.  Sprinkle on some herbs de provence or whatever type of herb you enjoy. Img_3542
  3. Rub the bottom and top of the pan with some oil using a paper towel or brush and heat on medium with the lid sitting inside.
  4. While the pan is heating, slice the bread into 1" slices on the diagonal to increase the surface area for sandwich ingredients.
  5. Place the chicken breasts into the pan and cover with the lid.  Cook about 3 minutes (depending on thickness and size of chicken breasts) on each side.  Remove from pan and slice into thick pieces.Img_3543
  6. Replace the lid so that it will get hot while you build the sandwiches.
  7. Drizzle olive oil over the outside of two pieces of sliced bread.  Spread a bit of pesto on the inside.
  8. Stack chicken, tomatoes, slices of fresh mozzarella, and red onions onto one slice of bread and top with the second.Img_3549
  9. Place the sandwich in the pan and put the lid on top, pressing a bit.  Heat for a few minutes on each side just to grill the bread, and melt the cheese.  Img_3547
  10. Slice and enjoy.

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You can obviously make paninis with a skillet and either a cast iron skillet placed on top to press, or, a brick that has been covered with foil.  And if you have one of those pans with the ridges on the bottom, you’ll get great "stripes" on your paninis.  But come on.  It’s not going to be a chic green color.  And I don’t want to give my husband any ideas about wrapping bricks for my birthday. 

I do enjoy that the lid on mine is very hot when used, and that this does speed things up a bit.

I’m thinking this is going to be a pretty popular item in our house.  And I’ll have great biceps, as well!