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What is a Panini?

By Bethany Keene
Updated May 16, 2024
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A panini is a popular type of grilled sandwich made on Italian bread. Technically, the singular form of the word in Italian is panino, which does refer to a stuffed-bread sandwich, but this term is not commonly used in English speaking countries. Traditionally, it is made by stuffing either a loaf of bread or two slices of hearty bread with meats, cheeses, vegetables, and any other additions the cook chooses. These sandwiches have become quite popular grilled, though it is not absolutely necessary.

People who do wish to grill the sandwich may want to butter or brush the outside of the bread with extra virgin olive oil to give it a crispier texture. Some cooks use a panini press to grill the sandwich, which is essentially a two-sided grill. This method may also be accomplished by placing the sandwich on a grill, pressing down firmly with a spatula, and then flipping the sandwich over and repeating the process.

Of course, a cook can use any type of bread to make this sandwich, but it is important to use a relatively dense bread that will hold up well on the grill. Foccacia, ciabatta, and sourdough breads are popular, along with herbed varieties. Thick slices of Italian or French bread will also work well. Strongly flavored meats such as salami and prosciutto are often used with cheeses such as mozzarella, provolone or asiago.

Those who do not like these particular meats and cheeses should feel free to switch them out for anything they like better. Grilled chicken, turkey, and roast beef can also make delicious paninis. Cooks should bear in mind that the meat needs to be cooked before being placed in the sandwich — grilling it only heats it through, but does not actually cook anything. After the sandwich maker has selected the bread, meat, and cheese, it is time to add extra toppings.

Some popular additions include spinach, roasted red peppers, basil, olive oil, olives, tomatoes, garlic, balsamic vinegar, and oregano. People who wish to swap out the meat and make a vegetable panini might use eggplant or zucchini, or any other vegetables. This sandwich can make a delicious and filling meal that is simple and quick to make, and can be easily customized.

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Discussion Comments
By anon977649 — On Nov 12, 2014

Based on what I've read and all of the above comments, I definitely intend to make myself one of these. There is a panini grill on sale right now on one of our online sales locally and they want $20 for it.

By orangey03 — On Nov 16, 2012

I've only eaten one panini from a restaurant in my life, and I have to say that it was just way too much bread. I believe that there was more bread than filling, and I wound up pinching a lot of it off because it was making me get full too quickly.

By cloudel — On Nov 15, 2012

@seag47 – I do know of one vegetarian panini that tastes awesome without cheese. My sister is the best panini maker I know, and she introduced me to this one.

Originally, the recipe did call for cheese, but since I'm lactose intolerant, I asked her to leave it off. There were so many other flavors and textures going on that this panini lacked nothing!

She used grilled eggplant and zucchini, tomatoes, garlic, pepper and salt, red onion, basil, and olive oil. It's a pretty common recipe that you could probably find in many places online. Just leave off the cheese, and trust me, you won't miss a thing!

By seag47 — On Nov 14, 2012

Nearly all panini recipes include cheese, but I hate cheese. Does anyone know of any paninis I can make without cheese that will still taste flavorful and delicious?

By BrickBack — On Jun 06, 2011

I wanted to say that there is a Cuban sandwich called a media noche that is sort of like a Panini. The bread is a sweet blend between an egg and a longer hoagie roll and it includes Swiss cheese, ham, pickles, pork, mustard, and mayonnaise pressed on the Panini press. It is delicious especially when the cheese melts.

It tastes like a Cuban sandwich except the bread is sweeter. It is one of my favorite sandwiches and whenever I eat a Panini it always reminds me of the media noche sandwich.

By Ivan83 — On Jun 06, 2011

@zsazsa56 - In general, paninis have less cheese, and grilled cheese have less fillings. Of course this is a fine line with lots of grey areas. I have had paninis which had enough cheese for two grilled cheese sandwiches. Conversely, I've had grilled cheese sandwiches that had bold and delicious fillings added. So maybe it comes down to semantics. Or maybe it comes down to your mood. If you are feeling fancy say panini, if you feel folksy say grilled cheese.

By ZsaZsa56 — On Jun 06, 2011

I've always wondered, what is the difference between a panini and a grilled cheese?

By whiteplane — On Jun 06, 2011

I love to make a chicken panini recipe with grilled chicken, mozzarella cheese, whole basil leaves and sun dried tomatoes. It is simple to make, easy to grill and absolutely delicious. Its like having all the flavors of Italy in a single sandwich. I could eat one every day if I had the means.

By tigers88 — On Jun 06, 2011

@chivebasil - There are indeed home panini makers and luckily they are usually inexpensive and effective. A lot of them look like George Foreman grills with a nonstick surface on both the top and bottom to grill your sandwich. The best one I have found is the cuisinart panini press, but there are lots of the on the market. Happy panini making!

By chivebasil — On Jun 06, 2011

@backdraft - Those sound awesome. Do you know if there panini makers available for the home?

By backdraft — On Jun 06, 2011

jognrss - You are completely right. I remember when I was in college our cafeteria had a sandwich bar. You could get just about any sandwich you wanted made to order. The other offerings in the cafeteria were pretty weak so I often found myself at the sandwich bar. Unfortunately, eve this was underwhelming, They always seemed to have the worst meats, cheeses, veggies and bread on the market. I ate a lot of terrible sandwiches.

But things change in my junior year when they installed two panini presses. These were basically just double sided grills that would heat your sandwich up and melt the cheese, but somehow they made otherwise underwhelming sandwiches incredibly delicious. It was like magic because the only thing they added was heat. I started enjoying that cafeteria so much more after they installed that panini press.

By jonrss — On Jun 06, 2011

As I write this I'm eating a panini at one of my favorite coffee shops. I come here at least once a week because these paninis are to die for. There is something about the combination of melted cheese, warm fillings and grilled bread that elevates traditional sandwiches to the next level. I don't know why I'd ever eat another cold sandwich again.

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