Chicken & Eggplant Parmesan Panini

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Chicken & Eggplant Parmesan Panini is hot, crisp, and cheesy. An insanely satisfying panini recipe!

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I hate to admit it, but I’m a bit of a cold sandwich snob. I blame college – the Bender Hall cafeteria circa my freshman year, to be more specific.

Every afternoon at lunchtime my roommate and I would rush down to the dining hall the minute it opened, hastily scan our student id cards, grab a tray, and make a hard right directly into the sandwich line.

Sandwich Dan’s sandwich line.

Sandwich Dan worked the deli counter in the cafeteria, and my friend and I had the most epic crush on him. Despite our feelings though, we never spoke of anything but sandwiches.

“What’ll it be today ladies?”

The same thing we ordered everyday.

“Um, teehee, we’ll have two turkey sandwiches with cheese and ranch and pickles. Lots of pickles! Haha!”

Extra pickles just scream date me!, don’t you think?

He’d hand over the sandwiches, we’d awkwardly linger, then finally move on as other hungry freshman shoved our trays out of the way.

Maybe it was because he was so cute, but to us, Sandwich Dan was a friggin’ sandwich maestro. That turkey and cheese sandwich with ranch dressing and pickles cut neatly on the diagonal was the best sandwich we ever had. Until roughly the 150th turkey and cheese sandwich with ranch dressing and pickles cut neatly on the diagonal.

At that point I thought I’d puke if I ever had another one of Sandwich Dan’s sandwiches ever again, and as sad as I was over the fact that we never saw him again after our freshman year, I didn’t need the reminder of how many pounds of crappy dining hall turkey, cheese, ranch and pickles I ate that year.

Plus, it’d probably be weird. What non-sandwich related topics would we talk about?

Anyways, fast forward 10 years later (sob) and I still don’t have much of an appetite for cold sandwiches. No, if I’m going to eat a sandwich, it’s got to be hot. Something thick, hearty and positively dripping with (preferably) cheesy fillings, that I can really sink my teeth into.

Something like a Chicken & Eggplant Parmesan Panini. Chicken Parmesan and Eggplant Parmesan morphed into an over-the-top hot sandwich that Panini Ben and I inhaled for dinner tonight!

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Start the panini by pre-heating a grill pan or panini press to high. I used my trusty Griddler for the job!

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Butterfly a chicken breast so you have two halves, then spray each half with non-stick spray and season with salt, pepper and Italian seasoning.

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Liberally spray the panini press or grill pan with non-stick spray, and grill the chicken until cooked all the way through. Remove to a plate and set aside.

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While the chicken is cooking, slice an eggplant into 8 slices, each about 1/2″ thick. I always look for an eggplant with a tight cap and no wrinkles.

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Lay the slices out on a cooling rack and sprinkle both sides with salt. The salt sucks out excess moisture and bitterness from the eggplant, ensuring you don’t have a soggy, disgusting panini. :)

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After 10 minutes, little droplets of water will have formed on the top and bottom – go ahead and blot them off with a paper towel.

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Brush both sides with extra virgin olive oil, season with pepper, then grill until tender. Beauts! :)

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Next, gather the panini ingredients including the grilled chicken and eggplant slices,

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as well as fresh mozzarella, fresh basil leaves, and your favorite marinara sauce.

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As far as bread choices go – well it’s really up to you. I used a demi baugette, but Italian or even ciabatta bread would be fantastic too. Lay out 2 slices of whatever type you decide to go with, and top with slices of fresh mozzarella cheese, which will act like glue when melted to hold everything together.

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Next, layer on the grilled eggplant and chicken, then top with marinara sauce and fresh basil.

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Place the lid on top, brush with a little more olive oil, and stick the whole thing back in the panini press.

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Press, sizzle, meeeeelt, crunch! :D

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Chicken & Eggplant Parmesan Panini

Print this recipe!

Serves 4

Ingredients:
2 chicken breasts
salt & pepper
Italian seasoning
1 eggplant, cut into 8 slices 1/2″ thick
extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup marinara sauce
8 oz fresh mozzarella cheese
14-16 fresh basil leaves, torn
8 slices Italian bread

Directions:

  1. Butterfly each chicken breast so you have 4 pieces of chicken total. Spray each half with non-stick spray, and season with salt, pepper and Italian seasoning on both sides. Heat a panini press or grill to medium high, and grill chicken until cooked all the way through. Remove to a plate and set aside.
  2. Meanwhile, lay eggplant slices on a cooling rack and generously salt both sides. Let sit for 10 minutes, then blot excess moisture away with a paper towel. Brush each side with extra virgin olive oil, and season with pepper. Grill eggplant on medium high heat until tender.
  3. Assemble one panini by placing 2 slices of bread on a flat surface. Place 1oz mozzarella cheese on each slice of bread. Top one slice with 2 eggplant slices, 1 chicken breast, 2 Tablespoons marinara sauce, and 3-4 fresh basil leaves. Place the other slice on top so the cheese is face down, and brush the top with extra virgin olive oil. Repeat with remaining ingredients.
  4. Place the sandwiches in a panini press set to high and cook until cheese is melted and bread is golden brown, about 3-5 minutes. Let sit for 2-3 minutes before slicing with a serrated knife.

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They say a picture is worth 1,000 words, but here’s a few more: savory, fresh, hot, gooey, crunchy!

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The great thing about this panini is that can easily be just a chicken parmesan panini, or just an eggplant parmesan panini, by leaving one or the other off, but I really love the meaty texture of the chicken, and grilled flavor of the eggplant together in one bite.

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I think, just maybe, Sandwich Dan would be proud. ;)

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Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to indulge in the pure bliss that is melted cookie butter drizzled over cold banana ice cream. I’d say that too is a step up from the bubble gum ice cream cone I enjoyed every afternoon after gobbling those sandwiches up all those years ago. D’oh! ;)

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Comments

  1. Um, ok. I want to be Panini Liz tonight!

  2. oooey gooey cheesiness is second to none in my book. this sandwich looks like perfection! i’m with you… a cold sammie i can take or leave, but press that baby into a panini and i’m all about it!

  3. Kalli Wilson 02.22.2012

    I miss the Rialto!

  4. Carrie 02.22.2012

    I DID NOT have a sandwich Dan (boo) at Campbell Hall! Looks delish, will definitely try!

  5. your recipes always make me reallllly want a griddler! looks like such a great kitchen tool for cooking for one or two.

  6. Um…yum! Just had a panini from Tartine today that was great, but I’d sure eat another one right now if it had some eggplant on it.

  7. You are seriously the queen of the panini sandwich! Every time you make one and post it I get major dinner envy. Need to make paninis more often!

  8. H.Esmeralda 02.22.2012

    Just HAD to comment- I used to make sandwiches at the Rialto. And, indeed, I had my regulars! Funny that you remember Sandwich Dan. As an employee, I had “Tall Guy” who was, indeed, a very tall guy. He ordered massive sandwiches smothered in Ranch. Gaaaaaag.

  9. Brittney 02.22.2012

    You HAVE to try Which Wich if you ever get Iowa City way (or any other way with a Which Wich…) http://www.whichwich.com

  10. SUE 02.22.2012

    RANDOM question….but… when will you have a Iowa baby eats? hee hee. oh and of course.. sandwich looks yumm-o :>

  11. Kelsey 02.22.2012

    Wow, that sandwich looks amazing!! I am a sandwich snob as well, I hardly ever eat them but might change my mind now…I need a panini maker!

  12. sara 02.22.2012

    I made margherita paninis the other night…pesto, mozarella, tomato, salt, and pepper. Awesome!

  13. I’ve never seen such beautifully grilled eggplant!

  14. Now that’s a Panini! That’s one good looking sandwich

  15. Gail 02.22.2012

    Looks great! I lived in Dancer Hall (’71-’75); only guys in Bender all THOSE years ago!

    The next time you’re in Trader Joes, buy the lemon-pepper pasta. It’s a very wide noodle. Then go home and use it to make your favorite tuna & noodle recipe. This is the only way I make it from now on.

  16. Good god, that looks amazing. We have had our Griddler sitting in the box since before our wedding and haven’t broken it out yet. Now I really want to grill eggplant on it!

  17. dana 02.22.2012

    hi! looks yummy!

    i have the same griddler and was wondering if you have any tips on cleaning the panini plate. i have used it in the past and tried washing it but it always remains greasy. even tried it in the dishwasher. i love it but don’t like the cleanup!

    thanks

    • Iowa Girl Eats 02.23.2012

      I have a pan/dish brush that I rub all the gunk off with under hot water after the plates are cool enough to handle, then send them through the dishwasher!

  18. Kate 02.22.2012

    I was a sandwich lover in college too! Definitely did not get my money worth getting a (grilled) tomato and cheese every day. I completely agree that warm sandwiches are WAY better than cold. Love my little griddler :)

  19. bubble gum ice cream!!! my grandpa used to take me to the ice cream shop when i visited as a little girl and that was alwaysssss what i got – loved that stuff!!!

  20. Lindsey 02.22.2012

    That looks delicious, I cannot wait to make it, thanks for sharing!

  21. JHackett 02.22.2012

    Where do you get a good eggplant in West Des Moines this time of year? HyVee, Trader Joes?

  22. Yes!!!

    Toasted bread > untoasted bread
    Melted cheese > unmelted cheese
    Paninis > regular sammies

  23. Ty 02.22.2012

    Oh dear sweet baby Jesus….

  24. Liz 02.22.2012

    Could a George Foreman be used as a grill press?

  25. Culinarystorm 02.23.2012

    That looks sooo good. Warm sandwiches are the BEST :)

  26. Wowza! That looks amazing! Thanks for sharing. And in addition to the salt in the turkey and pickles, it was probably all that ranch dressing that did you in freshman year. Why did we all think we could and should eat like that everyday?!?

  27. Kel 02.23.2012

    Wow! I love the college story!! It was a turkey and ham sandwhich for me w/ lettuce, tomatoes, jalepenos, red onion and tillamook cheddar for me!! Luckily I caught a break on the POPULAR (fried) CHICKEN WRAP TUESDAYS.. and CHEESEBURGER WEDNESDAY’S! Aw I miss college days!!

    On another note.. I think I need a panini press now! Thanks for making me drool!!

  28. Shannon 02.23.2012

    Looks fantastic! The guys who made sandwiches over at Commons were pretty creepy, so I mostly stuck to the cheesy soup of the day. ;-) Should have tried Bender!

  29. Emilia 02.23.2012

    For some reason I’ve been seriously craving a sandwich recently, your photos almost had me drooling. Personally, I way prefer grilled/hot sandwiches, though for some reason I can never eat them as one unit. I’m the weird girl who always picks her sandwiches apart…sigh

  30. I agree-hot, pressed sandwiches are SO much better than cold subs.

  31. Amy 02.23.2012

    Oh seriously, if I keep reading your blog I’m going to weigh a ton! LOVE the sandwich, can’t wait to make it (and eat it)!

  32. Ris 02.23.2012

    I did the SAME THING in college. I had a turkey sandwich every day for lunch my freshman year , and now just the smell of that dining hall would probably turn my stomach. Blech!

  33. I was actually introduced to paninis in college. All the dinining halls had them and they always had a special panini of the day. I wish they had this one when I was at school!! Going on the top of my list to make. How much salt do you put on the eggplant? I don’t like too much salt and am always afraid that is all I would taste. I picked up cookie butter this week and am going to try it over the banana. Got that banana ice cream from your blog and always try not to eat all the bananas so I can freeze some. I love putting some cinnamon in it.

  34. OMG!! You’re like a panini God. Love it!

  35. Birds Nest 101 02.23.2012

    I just read this post this morning and I made my E a Chicken Parm sammie as well =)I breaded and fried it though, something I rarely ever, ever do, but I knew he would adore it.

    Cheese sticks w/ranch were my favorite in college I would get them every evening at the Eagles Nest. To this day I cant even look at a cheese stick.

  36. Jenni 02.23.2012

    Fist pump for UNI references!

    • Laura S 02.23.2012

      I know! I thought that as soon as she mentioned Bender hall! Talk about snob – I was a total “no boys in my living space” snob in college and lived in Lawther. haha After living with a boy for over a year now, I’d say I made the right decision then. =)

      • Jessica 02.23.2012

        You guys are making me giggle! I also lived in Lawther and frequented the commons :)

        These UNI references are great!

  37. Panera John 02.23.2012

    This panini looks and sounds delicious! If you’re ever looking for a job in the Panini business, I would be glad to hook you up!

  38. Stacy 02.23.2012

    Oh I miss UNI! Everytime I hear you talk about college I flash back to 7th Floor Bender or the Bender dining hall and you and the “other” Kristen living together down by Big Jen!

    • Iowa Girl Eats 02.23.2012

      BIG JEN!!! Wait, who is this?! :)

      • Stacy 02.26.2012

        I lived down in 701 and worked with your dad during the summer at Hy-Vee.

  39. ErikaMC 02.23.2012

    Looks super tasty! My husband might even eat this.

    I went to TJ’s and they were out of Cookie Butter! I haven’t got to try it yet :(

  40. YUM! I’m a vegetarian but I would definitely make this minus the chicken and maybe some extra eggplant…or cheese :)

  41. I think our Cuisinart Griddler has been the best addition to our kitchen. Since we got it last fall we have paninis or burgers or just grilled cheese a few times a week. It’s easy to clean, fast, and SO much easier than our propane grill on the deck.

    Now I just need to get more creative with the ingredients. Thanks for the inspiration!

  42. Johanna 02.23.2012

    I used to work at the 23rd St. Market as a “Sandwich Artist” and those sandwiches still hold a spot in my heart. I did frequent the deli counter at Commons at least once, if not twice a day and the thought of another one isn’t appetizing at all. I do, however, believe that was how I stayed healthy during all those trips to the dining hall.

    • kate 02.27.2012

      lol love seeing all the UNI references! I can’t eat much stir fry anymore either after all I had at that dining center there…not much for healthy (& vegetarian!) options in those places. Go Panthers! :)

  43. Jeri 02.23.2012

    I am right with you, although not for the same reasons. I have never liked cold sandwiches. ‘Cept for the #11 at Palmer’s Deli. That’s it. No picnics for me!

  44. this is way better than anything i’ve seen at a restaurant! YUM!!!

  45. eatingRD 02.23.2012

    lol Processed and cured deli meat doesn’t do much for me either, but this sammie looks great! Love that crusty, chewy bread mmm

  46. Strawberry on Top 02.24.2012

    [...] Chicken, Eggplant & Parmesan Panini from Iowa Girl Eats looks like the perfect hearty dinner sandwich! [...]

  47. I LOVE my Griddler! Favorite “wedding kitchen gadget” ever…

    …this sandwich looks divine – can’t wait to try it :)

  48. Jamie 02.24.2012

    I worked in Towers Dining 10 years ago (lived in Dancer) :) I worked the breakfast shift and prepped & cooked lunch, leaving just before it was served. I am *fairly* certain I know who your man sandwich Dan is. WOW small internet world!

    I love paninis but don’t own a fancy press. When I make them I use two cast iron skillets, one to cook it in and the other to smash and weigh it down. It works well, it just don’t get the fancy grill marks.

  49. Life's a Bowl 02.26.2012

    This sandwich looks absolutely delicious! La Brea demi baguettes are my fave :D

  50. Katie Martin 02.28.2012

    That is so funny- we both had a sacred sandwich preparer in college! Mine was a lovely woman named DeeDee who made the most delicious turkey and provolone with brown mustard and herb cream cheese on ciabatta that ever existed! But I’m sure it would have been even nicer if she had instead been a hunky male character. Haha!
    Anyway, your panini looks amazing! Normally I’m not huge on paninis, but this particular combination looks so yummy and very doable. Thanks for re-opening my eyes to the wonders of hot sandwiches. Is this your favorite panini recipe? If not, what is?

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