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When I read that Patricia Wells counts a panini maker among her essential pieces of kitchen equipment, I was floored. Praise for a fanciful kitchen accessory coming from the chef whose brilliance lies in her simple preparations of ingredients like lentils, potatoes, zucchini, and asparagus?
But of course the panini press is no one-trick pony for Patricia. Instead, it's "a super user-friendly and versatile kitchen tool" that she employs to replicate the texture, look, and flavor of grilled foods—without the trouble of lighting a grill or cleaning it up.
Patricia uses it for grilling bread, vegetables (she recommends asparagus and eggplant, but we also had success with onions, ramps, and zucchini), and, yes, sandwiches. The machine adds "that hint of charcoal or perfectly toasted crust without all the fuss of an outdoor or stovetop grill, and without the extra fat."
Her other trick is to sandwich the grilled food between parchment paper for extremely easy cleanup. She puts a sheet of parchment on the press, lays down the food, and then covers it with a second piece of parchment.
Of course, there are caveats: You're not going to get the smoky intensity that comes from grilling over charcoal, and Patricia hasn't had much success using the press for meat, poultry, or fish. You also want to be sure to keep your vegetable slabs rather thick (at least 1/4- to 1/2-inch), as they'll be squashed under the weight of the press; it's hard to achieve beautiful grill marks on thin slices, which will are more likely to melt and disintegrate. And while Patricia doesn't mention oiling the vegetables before she cooks them, a bit of fat will help the vegetables become browner and lusher.
If you don't have a panini press,
get one you can use the same method (parchment paper and all) with a stovetop grill pan, pressing the food into the hot surface with a heavy skillet.
For more of Patricia Wells' best techniques and recipes, click on the photos below. (Can you tell we're big fans?)
What's your favorite way to "grill" indoors? Tell us in the comments below!