Since I don’t have a lot of storage in my little house, I’m not a fan of kitchen appliances that serve only one purpose. I don’t have a waffle maker, a popcorn machine, an ice cream machine or a pan to poach eggs. I did, however, receive a non-requested panini press from a wedding well-wisher. One might think a panini press is only used to make paninis, but one would be wrong.
You can pretty much make anything warm and crunchy if you press it in a panini press.
The press remains in my gross scary basement for 99% of the time, but I’ll tell ya, the 1% of the time it’s in use it makes me very, very happy.
This past weekend I wanted to make some panini for my friends. I made a pizza awhile back with a very quick, tasty alfredo sauce. I wanted my panini to adhere well and I thought this could be the perfect glue. I sauteed two giant bags of spinach with lots of garlic and olive oil, and the sliced chicken and mozzarella were boring but necessary. Everything could be done ahead (even the assembly!), so it was perfect for entertaining. For the cheater mc-cheaterson version, purchase some alfredo sauce.
All in all I was VERY happy with how it came out. All simple, real ingredients that come together and complement one another well. If you don’t have a panini press, you can use a grill, a grill pan, a large skillet, or a griddle. Find something really heavy (a brick? A large pot filled with a cook book?) and sit it on top of the sandwiches as they cook.
Chicken Alfredo Panini with Garlicky Spinach
Makes 6 large sandwiches
1 tbsp. butter
2 garlic cloves, minced or pressed through a garlic press
2 tbsp. flour
1/2 tsp. black pepper
3/4 c. milk (1 or 2 %)
1/2 c. Pecorino Romano (or Parmesan) cheese
2 (10 oz.) bags fresh spinach, washed and drained
1/4 c. extra virgin olive oil
4 cloves garlic, minced or pressed through a garlic press
2 tsp. salt
1/4 -1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
16 oz. mozzarella cheese, thinly sliced or grated
1 1/2 lb. chicken breasts, cooked and sliced thin
1 large loaf rustic-style Italian bread (depending on where you get your bread, your might need two loaves)
1/4-1/2 c. olive oil for bread
1. To cook sauce, start by assembling all of your ingredients. Melt butter over medium heat and add garlic once it’s melted.
2. Saute garlic until fragrant, about thirty seconds (don’t let it turn brown).
3. Add flour and pepper and stir; let cook, stirring constantly, two to three minutes.
4. Add your milk about 1/4 c. at a time, stirring mixture until combined and thick. Add more milk as each part is absorbed.
5. Remove from heat and add cheese; stir until smooth and combined.
6. Set sauce aside or refrigerate until ready to use.
7. To cook spinach, work in two batches. Heat 2 tbsp. olive oil in a large skillet and add 2 cloves minced garlic.
8. Saute garlic for about 30 seconds (don’t let brown) and then add half of the spinach. Saute, stirring ocasionally, until wilted. Add 1 tsp. salt and a sprinkle of crushed red pepper.
9. Remove spinach from pan into a bowl or tupperware and repeat with remaining spinach. Set aside spinach until ready to assemble sandwich or refrigerate until using.
10. Prepare chicken and cheese.
11. Lay out bread and spread sauce on both slices of each sandwich.
12. Spread spinach on one slice. Top with chicken and then mozzarella. Top with second slice to complete the sandwich. Repeat this with each sandwich.
13. Brush or drizzle oil on the outsides of each sandwich.
14. When ready to grill, heat oven to 350 degrees and set a cookie sheet in the oven. Grill sandwiches in batches until golden brown grill marks appear. Transfer cooked sandwiches to oven and repeat until they’re all done. Serve!