It’s the perfect combination: toasted bread filled with meat, cheese, vegetables and more. And they’re not just for lunch — they are delicious at dinner and even breakfast time, too. But did you ever wonder how the popular panino got its start?
Originally, this basic sandwich had working-class Italian origins. Whether you’re referring to one — un panino — or more — due panini — the first sandwiches were made with a simpler recipe: a single filling, usually meat, paired with a rustic bread. Cured meats, such as prosciutto, salami or pancetta, were often used because they didn’t require refrigeration. Panini were usually eaten on the go as a quick meal or snack and weren’t toasted or grilled.
Over the years, panini grew in popularity and ingredients began to evolve. Rustic breads such as ciabatta, francesino and focaccia became the signature foundation of the sandwich (sliced bread is not used for panini — those sandwiches are called un tosto). People also began to experiment with fillings. Cheeses, from mozzarella to brie, became standard and added welcome depth and flavor. Vegetables — including tomato, arugula, eggplant, or butternut squash — brought garden-fresh taste and texture. Pesto, herbs, olives and even anchovies were added to balance and complement flavors. The combinations are endless and make each panino an individual dining experience.
Somewhere along the way, a crucial discovery was made: while a regular panino is good, a toasted panino is even better. Panini were originally warmed in regular fry pans, and spatulas were used to flip them over halfway through the cooking process. Today, many people use an electrics countertop grill or a stovetop grill pan and press grill to cook both sides at once and get that perfectly toasted, crunchy exterior paired with a warm and melted interior.
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Ready to make your own? Here are a few of our very favorite Panini recipes.
Prosciutto & Fontina Panini with Arugula »
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Breakfast Panini »