Paninis make a great appetizer or addition to a casual spread (think Super Bowl party).  You don’t need to own a panini maker to get in on the panini fun.  I use a double-burner griddle for large paninis and a grill pan for smaller versions.  To create your own panini press, place a cookie sheet on top of your panini and top with a heavy pan (like a cast iron casserole) or some canned goods.  Press down periodically to flatten the bread and flip your panini after a few minutes of cooking (when the bottom of your bread is crisp and golden).  Cook your panini until both sides are toasty brown and the cheese is melted.  Serve paninis cut into small pieces an an appetizer or as part of a buffet spread. 


If you have a panini press, break that bad boy out and invite some friends over.  Put the press in an accessible spot -on a breakfast bar or buffet table with an outlet close by.  Set out plates of assorted deli meats, cheeses, cooked and raw veggies and flavorful spreads (pesto, sun-dried tomato paste, tampenade, mustard, hummus) and have a Make-Your-Own-Panini Party.  Your friends will have fun concocting different combinations.  You can stick to some of the traditional toppings, or put out some non-traditional panini toppings like pepper jams, chutneys or even dark chocolate.  Giada De Laurentiis has a recipe for a panini that combines two of my favorite ingredients – chocolate and brie.  Try that combination for a dessert panini or serve it as an appetizer with champagne at a cocktail party.     


Here are some of my favorite panini filling combinations:


Soppresatta, arugula and goat cheese (shown above)
Pesto, roasted red peppers and fontina
Mozzarella and olive tampenade
Chicken, sun-dried tomato pesto and spinach
Prosciutto and smoked gouda
Portobello, roasted red peppers and goat cheese
Sharp cheddar and green apple
Bacon, avocado and Monterey jack cheese


Bananas and Nutella
Peanut butter, semi-sweet chocolate and banana
Brie and dark chocolate
Camembert and raspberry preserves
Fig jam and goat cheese


Do you have any combos that you love?  Do share.