This year Santa was really good to me, almost too good, but I’m definitely not complaining. I’m no fool. I want to make sure I stay on his good side. So as I was saying, Christmas. The best thing I unwrapped under the tree, aside from the pack of warm socks of course (I really love socks) was a brand spanking new panini press! A panini press, can you believe it? I haven’t been this excited since I was a kid and got a large bucket full of legos that one time. (Santa did good that year too). I’ve been in a daze ever since I ripped away that snowman paper and uncovered the panini grill and all of it’s glory. I may or may not have danced around the living room. Warm crusty bread in my eyes and melted bubbly cheese on my mind. I can’t get enough of it all. I plan on making nothing but panini for the remainder of my life. Every single day. I mean, unless I’m craving some pizza or soup or salad or something. Okay, maybe not every day. That’s not realistic, but definitely every other day. That’s for sure. All the panini we could ever possibly want. Panini for days. I’ll make it rain down panini. I’ll be the next panini king. I’ll let that information just sink it for a bit. You can thank me later.
Christmas is unfortunately over and New Year’s Eve is in a few days. What are we gonna do now?! I know we’re all in vacation mode, looking forward to the New Year, so I wanted to make and post something that would be easy for us to whip up without all of the hassle of an overly complicated dish or dessert. Sometimes it’s nice to just get in the kitchen and not have to think too hard about certain recipes and steps for once. So I decided to take my swanky new panini press out for a test drive and bring you this Grilled Chicken Pesto Panini recipe. It’s nothing fancy or anything, but it happens to be my favorite combination of flavors between two pieces of grilled bread. Did I mention the melted cheese?
If you’re currently on a little holiday vacation from work or school, gather up the ingredients and give this panini a try because if you don’t, you’ll be sorry. That’s not really a threat or anything, you’ll really just be sorry and sad because you missed out on the opportunity to eat the best sandwich you’ll ever eat. I’m not exaggerating. It’s the best. If you need me, I’ll be making panini non-stop and wearing warm socks because that’s what Santa wants me to do. Thank you, Santa. Thank you.
We’re going to start this panini adventure by getting the chicken ready for the grill. Place the chicken in a bowl and season it with salt, pepper, paprika, granulated onion, granulated garlic, dried oregano and crushed red pepper flakes. Add a bit of oil as well to prevent it from sticking to the grill.
**Tip: I like using chicken breast cutlets for this because they’re the perfect thinness for the sandwiches, and because it means they’ll faster on the grill without me worrying if they’re completely cooked or not. It’s always a struggle.**
Heat an outdoor grill (light up the charcoal until all gray, if using a charcoal grill). Once the grill is scorching hot, place the chicken in an even layer and cook for about 4 to 5 minutes on the first side. Turn over and continue to cook for another 2 to 3 minutes, or until cooked through. They’re thin so they’ll cook pretty fast.
Transfer the cooked chicken to a plate, cover loosely with foil, and allow to rest until ready to assemble the panini.
Forget about the chicken for a bit and let’s turn our attention to the tomatoes. You can add the sliced tomatoes to the panini and just call it good, but I want to take it a step further. We’re going to roast them in the oven first. A) to develop their flavor and B) to get them a bit softer because raw tomatoes are just boring. I recently learned this trick from my friend Joy and I’ve been obsessed with it ever since.
Place the halved tomatoes on a baking sheet and drizzle them with olive oil, salt and pepper. Toss to coat and shake the pan to get them on a single layer. Roast for about 15 to 20 minutes in a 375ºF oven, or until charred and completely soft.
Set the tomatoes off to the side and allow them to cool down. We’ll revisit them later on when we go to assemble our panini. Why don’t we make some pesto now, huh? That sounds like a fun plan, right? (Just say yes).
**Note: I used mini on-the-vine tomatoes for this, but feel free to use cherry tomatoes or grape tomatoes if that’s all you can find on hand. Just be sure to reduce their cooking time by about 10 minutes, as they’re small and they’ll burn easily.**
In the bowl of a food processor, combine the basil leaves, garlic, pine nuts, parmesan, salt, pepper, and lemon juice. Pulse a few times to chop it all down. Then, turn on the machine and while it’s running, slowly stream in the olive oil and blend until somewhat thick but still spreadable. Like in the second picture down there.
Check it for seasoning and adjust accordingly until the desired taste is reached. You might have to add a bit more salt or pepper, depending on how you like it. Transfer to a small bowl and set aside.
Rinse out the food processor and dry it out really good. Make the avocado aioli in the food processor as well. Combine the egg yolk, garlic, salt, pepper, lemon juice, avocado, and vegetable oil. While the machine is running, slowly stream in the olive oil and continue to blend until the aioli has thickened. Give a taste and adjust seasonings accordingly.
**Tip: If you don’t have a food processor but still want to make the pesto and aioli, you can definitely use a blender instead. It’ll do the same work for you.**
Transfer the aioli to a small bowl and set aside along with the pesto.
Let’s make the panini! Split each ciabatta roll in half. Spread one side with pesto and the other side with avocado aioli. Don’t be afraid to really slather it on. No one likes a dry sandwich (at least no one I know).
Place a few slices of mozzarella cheese on each half (both sides of the panini) and top one side with the roasted cooled tomatoes, and then the other side with grilled chicken.
Spoon a bit more of the pesto sauce on top of the chicken, because as I always say, “You can never have too much pesto sauce.” Okay okay, I don’t always say that, but I should totally start doing it. It’s my new motto in life.
Close each sandwich and then drizzle the top with a bit of olive oil.
**Note: Although my panini press is non-stick, I still like to take precautionary measures to make sure that they don’t stick to the grill.**
Preheat your panini press on high and allow it to get super hot. Place the sandwiches on the panini press and carefully close the machine, pressing down as hard as you can to flatten them and develop those awesome grill marks—which happen to be my favorite part of a panini (well, that and the melted cheese).
**Note: You’ll probably have to grill up the sandwiches in batches, depending on the size of your panini maker. Mine fit two large sandwiches rather comfortably. So I grilled up all four in two rounds.**
Serve the panini hot with a side salad or chips or some fries. You can make the fries yourself (if you have that kind of time), or just do what I did and heat up a bag of frozen fries in the oven. Don’t judge me, but there are actually a few really great brands of frozen fries out there in the world. I’ve fallen in love with one brand that makes garlic fries, and they’re to die for.
What’s not to love about warm sandwiches? Melted cheese, and crusty bread? Panini are the greatest thing ever invented, and now that I have a handy dandy panini press of my own, I’ll be making up all kinds of different grilled sandwiches. If you don’t have a press yourself, have no fear…you can just heat up a skillet on the stove, grease it and place the sandwiches in the skillet. Then place a super heavy pot or skillet on top of the sandwiches and press it down or weigh it down with a few cans or something heavy like that. Then flip them over and press down on them once again. You won’t get those grill marks BUT you’ll still get that hot pressed sandwich with melted cheese that we all know and love.
The great thing about a panini is that you can stuff and fill them with all kinds of different ingredients. You really don’t need a recipe, per say, but rather you can just go with the flow and see what you have on hand. As long as you put some cheese in there, you’ll be good to go. The sky’s the limit. Go ahead and create some masterpieces!
If you’re looking for a quick and easy lunch, I highly recommend this recipe. You don’t have to go through the trouble of making your own pesto and aioli either, if you don’t have the time, just use store bought pesto and mix mayo with mashed avocado and call it a day.
BUT DON’T GET ME WRONG! MAKING THE PESTO AND AVOCADO AIOLI YOURSELF AT HOME MAKES ALL THE DIFFERENCE, SO IF YOU HAVE THE TIME, IT’S A MUST!
It also makes a delicious (no brainer) dinner. You don’t have to think too much about it and the hardest part will be pushing down on the panini press…not too bad, right?!
- 1 pound chicken breast cutlets
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon black pepper
- ½ teaspoon granulated garlic
- ½ teaspoon granulated onion
- ½ teaspoon paprika
- ½ teaspoon dried oregano
- ½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- 1 pound mini tomatoes on the vine
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon black pepper
- 4 ciabatta rolls, split
- 8 slices mozzarella cheese
- 2 cups fresh basil leaves
- 2 garlic cloves
- ¼ cup grated parmesan cheese
- ¼ cup pine nuts
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon pepper
- 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
- ¼ to ⅓ cup olive oil
- 1 large egg yolk
- 2 garlic cloves
- 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
- ½ teaspoon dijon mustard
- 1 avocado, peeled and pitted
- ¼ cup olive oil
- 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
- pinch of salt
- few grinds of black pepper
- Preheat oven to 375°F.
- Heat an outdoor (or indoor stovetop) grill over medium-high heat. Place the chicken in a bowl and mix it together with the seasonings and oil until evenly coated. Grill the chicken for about 4 to 5 minutes on the first side, flip over and continue to grill for another 2 to 3 minutes or until cooked through. Transfer to a plate, cover loosely with foil and set aside.
- Cut the tomatoes in half and place on a baking sheet. Drizzle with the oil, salt and pepper. Toss to evenly combine. Roast in the oven for about 15 to 20 minutes, or until soft and slightly charred. Remove from oven and allow to cool down.
- To make the pesto: Combine all of the ingredients (except the oil) in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse a few times to chop it down. While the machine is running, slowly stream in the olive oil until the pesto is somewhat thick but still spreadable. Transfer to a small bowl and set aside.
- To make the avocado aioli: Combine all of the ingredients (except the olive oil) in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until smooth and combined. While the machine is running (slowly stream in the olive oil until thick and the consistency of mayo. Transfer to a small bowl and set aside.
- To assemble the sandwiches: Split the ciabatta rolls. Spread one half with pesto and the other half with the avocado aioli. Place a slice of cheese on each half of bread. Then layer with the chicken, tomatoes, and more pesto on the chicken. Close them and then drizzle the tops with a bit of olive oil. Place (two at a time) on a hot panini press and press down on the top. Grill until hot and the cheese has melted. Cut in half and serve warm. Enjoy!
- yields: 4 sandwiches