Thursday, February 13, 2014

Cast Iron Skillet Panini

It all started with a failed Italian bread recipe.

The loaves spread out instead of rising up.  The bread was still delicious, very soft, probably due to too little flour, and nice crumb.  I halved the loaves lengthwise and widthwise and froze them, hoping to come up with a good way to use them knowing that they would be perfect for paninis if only we had a panini press.

A few weeks later it hit me, why not use two cast iron skillets, one to grill and one to weigh down the sandwich?  While we lack a panini press, we have lots of iron skillets, I love them almost as much as mason jars.  They are inexpensive, indestructible, simple and they cook everything you can think of.  Yes, you will miss the nice grill marks, but you'll still have a nice grilled sandwich.  To further test the idea without wasting ingredients, I searched the Internet to see if this was possible.  Of course theKitchn had a post about it, they think of everything!  If you don't have two cast iron skillets, you could try using a regular stainless steel pan.

For the filling, I used what we had in the fridge.  We are lucky enough to have access to delicious, local greenhouse grown tomatoes and peppers in the dead of winter, shiitake mushrooms and greens.  Feel free to use your favorite veggies or whatever you have that is seasonal in your area.

Cast Iron Skillet Panini

1 medium tomato (I forgot to weigh the tomato) 
¼ teaspoon salt
1 Tablespoon olive oil
½ medium onion (about 3 ounces), sliced into ¼ inch half moons 
1 small sweet pepper (1-2 ounces), seeded and sliced ¼ inch thick
4 ounces skiitake mushrooms, stemmed sliced ¼ inch thick
10 small chard leaves or 2 large leaves, stems trimmed even with leaf
½ teaspoon Italian Seasoning
4 slices of cheese, (2 swiss, 2 havarti)
4 Tablespoons (2 cubes) prepared pesto, (I used Kale Pesto, prepared and frozen in ice cube trays) 
1 loaf flat bread or whatever bread you prefer for panini

Oil for spraying the bread

2 cast iron skillets

1.  Slice the tomato into ¼ inch thick slices.  Sprinkle the slices with salt, set in a strainer and allow to the juices to drain while you prepare the remaining ingredients.

2. Heat the oil in a 10-12 inch cast iron skillet over medium heat.  Add the onion and saute until translucent and beginning to brown, about 5 minutes.  Add the pepper and saute another two minutes, add the mushrooms and cook until they have released their liquid and are beginning to brown, about 6 more minutes.  Remove pan from heat.  

3. Preheat a second skillet or grill pan over medium-low heat.
4. Assemble sandwiches as follows:  Slice bread through the middle to make two slices.  Spread each slice with a thin layer of pesto.  Place a slice of cheese on each piece of bread followed by the sauteed veggies on one half topped with one layer of the sliced tomatoes.  Layer the other half of bread with the chard leaves and bring together to form your sandwich.

5. Once you have removed all the sauteed veggies from your first skillet, return to medium heat.
6. Spray a thin layer of oil on your preheated skillet or grill pan, temporarily turning off the heat if you have a gas stove to prevent any flaring.  Spray the top piece of bread of your assembled sandwich with a layer of oil.  Carefully transfer the sandwich to the preheated skillet.  

Use the skillet you sauteed your filling in to press down on top of the sandwich.  I used a big can of tomatoes to provide some extra weight and really pressed down on it for about a minute to flatten the sandwich and get some nice browning on the top piece of bread.  Let it grill for about 6-7 minutes until cheese melts and the bread has browned nicely.  If the top slice of bread is not brown enough, you may carefully flip the sandwich and continue browning on the other side.  

7.  Remove from heat and let cool for a minute or two before slicing into thin slices.  Serve warm with a nice salad or soup.

This served one very hungry father, one hungry mother, and one toddler, who mostly just wanted to eat the toasty bread and we had leftovers!   

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