Yes, Self Care Really Can Look Like a Panini Press — Three Panini Recipes to Try for Lunch This Week


In one of my recent Monday Motivation blog posts, I wrote about the very simple idea of the upgrade. My “upgrade” philosophy is that, sometimes, it’s necessary to treat yourself. It’s a way of being kind to yourself and a way to reward your own hard work. 

Naturally, everyone’s idea of an “upgrade” or a treat is different. For my partner, it’s a trip to the local used bookstore to hunt for treasure. For someone else, it might be a delectable dessert or a trip to the salon. 

When I upgrade, I like to look for ways I could make my life just a little bit easier. My friend calls this a “happiness efficiency quotient.” That sounds nerdy (and it is), but what it really means is finding something that will make a material difference in how you feel in your day-to-day life. 

While there are lots of little things around the house that bug me (tumbleweeds of cat hair, for instance), what I miss the most about my old routine is that I could go out to lunch. I used to be able to meet a friend or two in the middle of the day for a cup of soup or freshly-made wrap or a hot, crispy, cheesy, melty panini. 

Of course, I can still go enjoy a panini for lunch, but going out isn’t what it used to be, even if you happen to have one of the cutest masks out there. So, when I was looking for ways to improve my remote-work happiness quotient, I thought about how I could bring those rejuvenating and satisfying lunches back, even from home. 

Before I knew it, I had clicked on over to Amazon and ordered myself a panini press. It felt totally, completely indulgent, but I was practically giddy when it arrived. We had paninis for lunch…and for dinner. 

And now, I get to enjoy the midday pick-me-up that I need to fuel me through the second half of my workday. Taking a half-hour to make myself a hot lunch in the middle of day — to be kind to myself — helps me get more done and staves off that late-afternoon crash. 

I have definitely found an upgrade with a high “happiness efficiency quotient,” and I’m looking forward to lots of workdays put on pause for my (very necessary) panini time. 

Panini Press Tips and Tricks

Before busting out your own panini press and grilling up some delicious sandwiches, here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • The Bread. You can grill just about any kind of bread and end up with some delicious results, but firmer, sturdier bread tends to perform better in the panini press. I like to choose a bread that will work with the other flavors in my sandwich, but sourdough, rye, multi-grain, and ciabatta can all stand up to a grilling.
  • The Oil. Before grilling your sandwich, you’ll need to brush both the press and your bread with some sort of oil or fat to get that fantastic, golden, crispy exterior.  Choose an oil that will complement the recipe you’re making, such as olive oil for an Italian-style panini or butter for the ultimate grilled cheese. 
  • The Filling. You may be tempted to over stuff your panini (I usually am). Try to avoid this at all costs! When paninis are filled with too many ingredients, they may not flatten or cook evenly, and you run the risk of a lot more mess. 

Panini Press Sandwich Recipes to Try

Once you have the basics of the panini press down, it’s time to get your hands dirty and start experimenting. I’ve included a few of my favorite panini recipes down below. 

Basic Method

  1. Preheat your panini press. 
  2. Assemble your sandwich. Keep in mind that a shorter sandwich with fewer ingredients will do best in the panini press, and avoid too much liquid. 
  3. Once the panini press is hot, brush it with your chosen oil. Brush the outside of your sandwich with oil. 
  4. Place the sandwich in the hot press and grill it, pressing down at first, for about 3-5 minutes, or until the outside is golden brown and the inside is melty. 
  5. Remove from the press and enjoy!

No panini press? No worries. Simply use a nonstick pan and another, heavier pan instead. 

  1. Heat both pans on the stove until hot. 
  2. Place your sandwich in the nonstick pan (already oiled on both sides), and then press the heavier pan on top of the sandwich, flattening it.
  3. “Grill” the sandwich between the two pans for 3-5 minutes, or until the outside is golden brown and the inside is melty. 
  4. Remove from the press and enjoy!

Italian-Inspired Panini with Pickled Onions and Pesto Aioli

For this panini, we’re taking the dish back to its Italian roots, but with a distinctly-American twist. 

Start with some quick-pickled onions: julienne about half a small red onion, place it in a shallow bowl, and cover it with some vinegar, a pinch of salt, and a pinch of sugar. Let sit for 10-15 minutes while you assemble the rest of the sandwich. 

In another small bowl, stir together equal parts pesto and mayo. Add a squirt of lemon juice and some freshly cracked black pepper. Spread your pesto aioli on a split ciabatta bun. Next, layer capicola, ham, sun-dried tomatoes, the pickled onions, some freshly-grated parmesan, and a slice or two of provolone. Top with the other slice of bread, and you’re ready to grill.

Grilled Veggie Panini with Fresh Herbs and Goat Cheese

The char on the veggies in this sandwich adds another layer of flavor that turns this panini into a vegetarian delight. 

Begin by slicing a zucchini, yellow squash, or eggplant (or all three!) into 1/2 inch discs, and then place the slices in a marinade of olive oil, lemon juice, minced garlic, freshly cracked pepper, a dash of salt, and chopped fresh herbs, like parsley, cilantro, dill, and chives. After about 15 minutes in the marinade, grill the veggie slices, either outside or using a grill pan, until they are soft and nicely-charred. Reserve the leftover marinade for later.

Build your sandwich: Brush a thin slice of sourdough bread with the remaining marinade, and then layer on the slices of grilled veggie. Add a generous portion of goat cheese, brush the other slice of bread with marinade, and top off the sandwich before grilling.

Pork BBQ Cowboy Panini with Cheddar Cheese and Slaw

This is a serious panini for when you need more than a light lunch (or dinner). Serve with a side of tots or fried okra. When it comes to pork BBQ, go ahead and use whichever style is your favorite. I have to go with Carolina-style, but any kind of juicy, saucy BBQ would work well for this panini. 

Start by making the slaw. Combine thinly-sliced red and green cabbage in a bowl with some mayonnaise, sugar, Worcestershire sauce, apple cider vinegar, celery seed, salt, and pepper. Let the slaw sit for a minimum of a half-hour before adding to the sandwich.

To build your sandwich, slather a slice of sourdough bread with mayonnaise. Next, add a layer of shredded cheddar cheese, and then the warmed BBQ pork. Add some slaw on top, and then spread the other slice of bread with BBQ sauce before grilling.


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