For once, I’m feeling really refreshed after the weekend. I tidied up my place yesterday morning and abandoned my to-do list for the afternoon, choosing instead to camp out on my bed with a book. Necessary! Later on, my friend and I rode our bicycles to a bar to watch the Oklahoma City Thunder game, because suddenly I care about basketball. I’m not quite sure why—maybe it’s because we’re in the playoffs, or because our players are cute, or because I’m turning into my mother. Please don’t say it’s the latter (sorry, Mom).
Anyway, this strawberry panini is killer and I’d like for you to make it pronto, please. The word sandwich falls short as a descriptor; this is a panini, or more accurately a singular panino, regardless of the lack of grill marks. This panino consists of warm, jammy strawberries, tangy goat cheese and fresh basil sandwiched between golden brown, buttery whole wheat levain, served with a side of balsamic honey dipping sauce. You want to make it right now, right?
I’m thankful that Margarita chose the chocolate and cherry panini for this week’s Food Matters Project recipe, because now I know how to make panini sandwiches at home without one of those newfangled panini cookers or grill pans. Basically, it’s as simple as making a grilled cheese and squishing it with something heavy (find more detailed instructions in the recipe below).
I knew I wanted to attempt a savory take on the chocolate and cherry panini recipe, so I first tried a goat cheese and cherry filling, but it wasn’t quite right. As much as I enjoy fresh cherries, they seem to be cloyingly sweet when cooked. Later, I spied the strawberries next to the basil in my fridge and this panini was born. It is, if I say so myself, perfect, especially with the addition of balsamic honey sauce.
The balsamic honey sauce is a super simple recipe from Alice Medrich’s new dessert cookbook, Sinfully Easy Delicious Desserts. I was walking out the door when I found this cookbook wrapped up on my doorstep, so of course I had to pause to flip through it. Then, entranced by the ingenious simplicity of the recipes and the unexpectedly stunning photographs by Sang An, I had to sit down and admire the pages more carefully. The balsamic honey sauce is only my first recipe to try from the book and it’s so simple it barely counts as a recipe, but I assure you there will be many more. Alice Medrich is known for producing foolproof, well-tested recipes, and this book is brilliant and inspiring. You should probably get a copy so we can obsess over it together.
- 2 slices of whole wheat levain bread, thinly sliced
- 1.5 ounces goat cheese
- 3 to 4 strawberries
- a few basil leaves, whole or roughly chopped
- black pepper, freshly ground
- 1 tablespoon butter, or less
- ⅔ cup balsamic vinegar
- ⅓ cup honey
- Spread a layer of goat cheese over both slices of bread. Slice your strawberries relatively thinly by cutting off slices from the outside of the strawberries, leaving the center behind. Spread strawberries over one slice of bread, and basil on the other. Sprinkle both sides with black pepper, and lay the basil slice face down on top of the strawberry slice.
- Heat a small to medium skillet (cast iron is best) over medium heat. Melt one to two teaspoons of butter in the skillet, then add the sandwich. Cover it with a plate or appropriately sized dish and weigh it down with something heavy, like canned beans or a cast iron skillet. Cook until the bottom of the bread is lightly browned, about two to three minutes, then lift the sandwich from the pan, add another pat of butter, let it melt, and return the sandwich to repeat on the other side. Slice each sandwich in half and serve warm.
- To make the balsamic honey sauce, combine the balsamic vinegar and honey in a small saucepan over medium-low heat. Simmer, stirring constantly, until the liquid is reduced by about half (15 minutes or more). Pour the liquid into a small bowl to cool.
- Panini adapted from The Food Matters Cookbook by Mark Bittman. Balsamic honey sauce from Sinfully Easy Delicious Desserts by Alice Medrich.
- I recommend making the balsamic honey sauce first. Save leftovers for drizzling over Greek yogurt, vanilla ice cream, pizza, peaches and berries.
- If you'd like to make multiple sandwiches at once, you might try Bittman's other cooking method: preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit and butter your slices of bread on one side. Place the bread, butter side down, on a baking sheet and spread the topsides with goat cheese. Add fillings as directed below, and top with another slice of bread, spread with goat cheese on the underside and butter on the topside. Cover the sandwiches with another baking sheet and weigh the sheet down with something heavy, like a cast-iron skillet or canned goods, and let it sit for 5 minutes. Remove the weight and the top baking sheet and bake the sandwiches until the bottom of the bread is lightly browned, about 5 minutes, and then repeat on the other side.
- The panini fillings would make for delicious whole wheat quesadillas or crostini as well. For more panini inspiration, check out the comments section at The Food Matters Project.