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updated: 1/27/2012 12:12 PM

Paninis another word for kicked up grilled cheese

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  • A countertop grill works great for making Peppy Chicken Paninis, but you can use a panini press if you have one.

      A countertop grill works great for making Peppy Chicken Paninis, but you can use a panini press if you have one.
    George LeClaire | Staff Photographer

By Jerome Gabriel

Grilled cheese was one of my favorite sandwiches until I tried a panini.

Actually, panini is grilled cheese, just with more ingredients and cooked a bit differently.

Panino means sandwich in Italian. I learned that when I met Camelia Traistaru, who owns a popcorn and panini and gelato shop called Signature Sweets near the Palatine train station. I ate my first panini there a few months ago and it was amazing.

I wanted to learn how to make a panini so the next time I'm home and hungry, I can make one for myself. I asked her how she does it.

The sandwich starts with bread. Of course, Italian bread is an original type of bread, but you don't want it sliced too thin. And you don't have to use Italian bread. Camelia uses deli rolls because she likes the size.

Paninis cook on a grill that must be really hot, about 400 degrees, she says. Some companies make appliances called panini presses that cook the sandwich from the top and bottom at the same time. You can use one of those, or you can use a tabletop grill. At my house we use a George Foreman grill.

You can put just about anything you want in a panini, like chicken or turkey or tomatoes, sauteed mushrooms or red peppers, but you don't want to use too much of it. You want all the ingredients to get warm and you don't want the sandwich so big that you can't put it in your mouth.

A word from Mom: We found we like paninis made with slices cut from a 1-pound loaf of Italian bread; look for it near the deli counter at most grocery stores. Don't confuse this with the long, skinny French bread that you use to make garlic bread. That bread's crust is just too crunchy and the bread is too thick to warm all the way through.

You can customize the fillings to suit the members of your family and any friends who decide stay for dinner, and believe me, they will want to stay. Chicken, pepperoni, onions and red peppers for Jerome, hold the peppers for Campbell, no veggies or meat for Henry, a drizzle of giardiniera for Pop, some shaved turkey and spinach for me. The sandwiches cook in just a few minutes; you can keep the others warm in a low oven if you can only cook one or two at a time.

Serve paninis with a salad or cup of soup and some veggie chips or and you've got yourself a nice warm Wednesday night dinner or Saturday lunch that everyone will enjoy.

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