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!
Start the panini by pre-heating a grill pan or panini press to high. I used my trusty Griddler for the job!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Brush both sides with extra virgin olive oil, season with pepper, then grill until tender. Beauts!
Next, gather the panini ingredients including the grilled chicken and eggplant slices,
as well as fresh mozzarella, fresh basil leaves, and your favorite marinara sauce.
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.
Next, layer on the grilled eggplant and chicken, then top with marinara sauce and fresh basil.
Place the lid on top, brush with a little more olive oil, and stick the whole thing back in the panini press.
Press, sizzle, meeeeelt, crunch!
Chicken & Eggplant Parmesan Panini
2 chicken breasts
salt & pepper
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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
They say a picture is worth 1,000 words, but here’s a few more: savory, fresh, hot, gooey, crunchy!
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.
I think, just maybe, Sandwich Dan would be proud.
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!