Let me get this out of the way upfront: I do not own a Panini press. But I do like sandwiches. Ideal platforms to showcase leftovers, sandwiches have a structured elegance, the layers of ingredients ensuring the capture of all the flavor components. To enjoy Kathy Strah’s 2013 “The Ultimate Panini Press Cookbook”, you do not need to own a Panini press (though it helps) or to love sandwiches (though that helps too). Instead, approach this book as a way to make dinner and have enough leftovers for family lunch the next day.
That was my approach – cook once, eat twice – and it worked beautifully. For dinner, grilled herbed vegetables (page 225) became grilled herb vegetable salad (page 227) for the next day’s lunch, and so on. From this perspective, it is possible to see the family meal wheels spinning in Strahs’ head: create a great dinner and it can easily become a great Panini.
Strahs builds layers of flavor that work first as sauce or dressing, then as a sandwich spread. Hawaiian flank steak teriyaki Panini (page 123), has five flavor layers: marinated flank steak, seasoned mayonnaise, fried onions, grilled pineapple (on the panini press) and fresh herbs. The dish involves quite a few steps, none of which are difficult, but the preparation took more than 30 minutes. (Keep in mind that all the components were put to use numerous times and the time involved per meal diminishes.) Prepared for dinner, the gingery teriyaki bounced off the anise notes of cilantro before coming back to earth with meaty fried onions and mayo. Impossible to stop eating and even better as sandwiches the next day.
I doubled the amount of garlic and mustard called for in the marinated lamb chops (page 152) which transitioned nicely to lamb shawarma (page 153). The lemon-dill yogurt sauce makes a nice change from tahini sauce and beautifully dresses the cucumber, onion, tomato and lettuce as a wrap or salad.
Smoked trout, Boursin and cucumber Panini (page 175) takes the fish sandwich concept down to the studs. With little more than a bit of butter and a few slices of cucumber, the sandwich relies on its fatty, smoky and juicy ingredients with very little work from the cook. This is simple food at its best.
Melted cheese is the gateway to Panini happiness and Strahs often uses cheese as a platform for flavor. However, kale, grill-roasted garlic and cheddar Panini (page 212) is not just another grilled cheese sandwich. Yes, you have to sauté the kale and yes, you have to roast the garlic but these booming additions to the sandwich will make you rethink your daily bread. For example’ why don’t I use roasted garlic more often? When roasted, garlic is sweet and creamy and is extremely palatable for even the most finicky eater.
Serve quinoa as a side dish for the marinated lamb and you already have the makings for the spinach-feta quinoa cakes (page 234). (This dish is easily made vegan by leaving out the cheese and egg. Or, to replace the egg, mix 1 tablespoon ground golden flaxseed with 3 tablespoons warm water and let rest 10 minutes before adding to the quinoa mixture) Stir in some (defrosted) chopped spinach, herbs and lemon zest, then pan-fry for an easy meatless meal. Serve with the leftover kale from the cheddar Panini.
Every dish I prepared was a family hit; Strahs has a knack for compiling flavors from a wide range of ethnic cuisines and making them American. Her techniques are not complicated and her repertoire relies on mostly familiar flavors redesigned with a twist. Take sandwiches to new heights or turn the ingredients into dinner. No matter which path you choose, the recipes from “The Ultimate Panini Press Cookbook” will please the palates of all kinds of American families.
For more about Kathy and her passion for Panini, check out her blog, Panini Happy.
You can find her book online at Barnes and Noble and other retailers.