Q: Do you need a panini maker to make a panini?
--Carol Mackey, Barrington, Ill.
Pressing sandwiches isn't only an Italian thing. Look at the Cuban sandwich or even the grilled cheese sandwiches whipped up by old-fashioned coffee shops. I used to love going to Bailey's of Boston, an ancient joint downtown near the department stores, for its terrific pressed grilled cheese sandwich. The bread was white Wonder or Sunbeam or something of that ilk (squishy but toasted like a dream). There was one – one! – slice of cheese. But the whole mess got pressed down into a hot, gooey, buttery wafer-like presentation; delicious. No panini machine in sight, I can assure you.
You can replicate a panini machine by pressing down on the sandwich with some sort of weight. There are sandwich presses made for that purpose. You could try a foil-wrapped brick, a heavy saucepan or baking dish. Or you can even do what I do – slap that sandwich hard and often with a sturdy spatula. I literally will the sandwich into a pressed position.
Of course, one thing a panini maker does best is cook both sides of the sandwich at once and leave fetching grill marks in the bread. But, really, flipping the sandwich over and waiting a couple minutes more for it isn't all that big a deal. Just how important grill marks are is up to you; I'm OK without. If you need them, use that ridged grill pan you normally cook a steak in.
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