The grilled eggplant panini from our favorite cute French Cafe Nicole’s is absolutely amazing. Every time we get this sandwich we say “I wish we could make this at home because it is SO GOOD.” Finally I bought some frozen grilled eggplant from Trader Joe’s to try to do it myself. Only one problem: we don’t have a panini maker. But with some simple ingenuity, we devised a way to make our own panini press.
And guess what: it worked awesome. The sandwich came out tasting exactly like Nicole’s.
Here are the ingredients we used:
-Marinated Eggplant & Zucchini (Trader Joe’s)
-Kalamata Olive Tapenade
-Super thin sliced onion
-Cherry tomatoes, sliced into thirds (halves might have been too thick)
-Partially baked Ciabatta loaf
DIY panini press equipment:
-Cast iron skillet
-Slightly smaller heavy iron or Le Creuset pot that fits inside the cast iron skillet
Pre-heat oven to 425ºF with skillet and lid inside for 30 minutes. This is to heat up the pans for the panini grilling effect on the bread.
At 30 minutes in, toast the partially baked ciabatta bread to toast the outside and finish cooking the inside. I’m not sure this is necessary, but it worked well for us.
Cut a piece of bread roughly 3″ by 5″ – we cut our loaf in thirds. Slice the bread in half, trying to keep the top and bottom as even as possible.
Put a heaping spoonful of tapenade on one side of the bread. Layer with sliced tomatoes, salt and pepper (salt always tastes best when it goes right on the tomatoes), finely sliced onions, and finally a piece of marinated eggplant (the zucchini is a nice addition too).
Open the oven and carefully place the sandwich on the skillet – it will be hot, so don’t burn yourself.
This is the tricky part: place the heavy iron pot on top of the sandwich. You might have to adjust it a bit to keep it from falling over (ciabatta isn’t the most stable surface, apparently). It doesn’t have to be perfect. Wear an oven mitt!
Set timer for 5 minutes.
After 5 minutes, remove from oven (with your oven mitt), put on plate, slice in half.
Voila! Amazing grilled panini, without a panini maker.