Thursday, September 22, 2011

Cheesy chicken, artichoke & pesto panini

Take a seat, please.  Culinary school is in session!  Today we'll discuss the yummy sandwich made famous in Italy known as the panini, or panino.  Here is Italy... the boot!  (Have I mentioned how badly I want these boots?  No?  Another time then.)

We've got the where, now the what: pa-ni-no - a usually grilled sandwich made with Italian bread (according to the big shots)  Or, as we know it here in America, the panini, a pressed sandwich.

Did you know that panini is actually the correct plural version of the word, and not paninis?  I'm usually a stickler for grammar, but I'm going to go with the masses outside Italy and stick with saying paninis.  Correct Italian or not, these pale limbs are foolin' precisely no one.  And this delicious creation was made in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, United States of America.  Panini it is!

Chicken pesto artichoke mozzarella panini, to be more specific annnnnnnnnd enticing!

As the weather gets cooler, my appetite is aroused by all things toasty.  A grilled cheese sandwich is the first thing that comes to mind.  It's one of those comfort foods that seems to fix every sort of problem and nag in life, no matter how old you are.  And, even if things are quite swell in your life (which I hope they are!), are you really going to turn down a grilled cheese?  I didn't think so.

Life is pretty grand right now, and I was in the mood to "pimp" my grilled cheese out just a bit.  First order of business was to deem it a panini because, well, that just sounds fancier, doesn't it?  The classic grilled cheese is good, but this rendition may be my new favorite!  After buttering the bread (oh my gosh, I could live on butter bread alone), it was time to pile on the toppings.

First, a little pesto on the bread, then a slice of mozzarella cheese and some quartered artichokes.  I may or may not have been nibbling on those salty artichoke hearts during assembly.  They're just so delish!

Then, some shredded chicken for protein and meat... you know, heft, size, making the sandwich manly and stuff. 

Another slice of mozzarella for lots of cheese.  Mozzarella is one of the best melting cheeses because it becomes gooey and stringy and simply glorious.  There's a reason why fried cheese sticks are made with mozzarella, folks.  Oh, and another schmear of pesto.  Sweet Lord, the pesto...

How has my brain neglected to come up with this combination before?  This was a grilled sandwich of epic proportions!!  EPIC, I tell you.

There were so many little flavor parties going on in this sandwich.  The smooth nutty pesto and the hot melted cheese.  The salty artichokes with the moist lemon garlic chicken (extras from Sunday's roast chicken experiment) made this such a great one pot pan meal, all tucked in crusty buttery bread.  I had "one hand" typed but had to change it because this was a two hand sandwich.  You know, the kind that's so loaded with goodies that you're alternating bites and "mmms!" with prayers of "please don't fall apart on the plate/my lap!"

Yes, that kind of delicious.  The best kind!

So, you be the judge: panini or not?  I'm leaning toward no since I used regular ol' bread and there was no pressing to be had (other than some smooshing with a spatula). But, in the end, that doesn't matter one bit to me because what I got out of the deal was a delicious toasty gooey grilled sandwich made in the U.S. of A!

Chicken Pesto "Panini"
-serves 1

A few notes: I hesitate to call this a recipe because you can fiddle with it however much or little you like. Feeling a split baguette rather than bread?  Do it!  Want to add some sun-dried tomatoes or sliced turkey? By all means.  Just don't let not owning a panini press hold you back :)

2 slices bread
2 slices mozzarella cheese (shredded will also do)
Softened butter
Quartered artichoke hearts, rinsed
Cooked shredded chicken

Heat a nonstick skillet over medium-low heat.  Butter one side of each piece of bread and place one slice, butter side down, on the skillet.  Begin building your sandwich with pesto, a slice of cheese, artichokes, chicken, another slice of cheese, and a final dab of pesto.  Top with remaining slice of bread, buttered side up, and press with spatula.

Once cheese has begun to melt and the bottom is turning golden brown, carefully flip the sandwich and cook until the remaining side is golden brown.  Serve with a bowl of steaming tomato soup for the obligatory dipping!

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