A few years ago I decided to give eating a strictly plant-based diet a try. My friend sent me a bunch of vegan cookbooks to help me ease into it. I was a complete novice when it came to vegan cooking. I relied heavily on The Vegan Table by Colleen Patrick-Goudreau the first few months until I felt more comfortable coming up with my own recipes. It’s geared towards entertaining, but I use the recipes for every day too. I’m not 100% vegan, but I still eat that way most of the time and this book remains one of my very favorite go-to cookbooks on the shelf. I have never made one of the cover recipes, Panini with Lemon-Basil Pesto. Because I am gluten-free I don’t eat bread unless I occasionally splurge on a gluten-free loaf. I felt like it was a pretty safe bet that vegetables and pesto on a sandwich would be delicious gluten-free or not. So I bought a loaf of bread and a bunch of garden fresh veggies with the goal of testing out this recipe.
The first time I had an all veggie sandwich was on Arthur Avenue in the Bronx. It blew me away. Back then I was a veggie hater, but that sandwich is partially responsible for helping me change my mind. I really hoped this sandwich would be equally delicious. It’s hard to imagine a panini without loads of melted cheese, am I right? Well, I was ready to try it out and see. Read my notes below to see what I thought of this recipe.
Panini with Lemon-Basil Pesto
Yield: 4 panini or servings
Prep Time: 20 min
Cook Time: 10 min
Total Time: 30 min
"Fortunately you don't need a panini maker to create this delicious hot sandwich. To mimic the appearance of a sandwich pressed in one, place a baking sheet, with a heavy can on top, on top of the sandwich as it cooks in the skillet. You can also use a tabletop or indoor grill." --Colleen Patrick-Goudreau
2 cups (80 g) loosely packed fresh basil leaves
2 whole garlic cloves, peeled
1/4 cup (35 g) pine nuts
salt, to taste
2 tablespoons (30 ml) olive oil
1 to 2 teaspoons (5 to 10 ml) fresh lemon juice (or to taste)
2 medium-size roasted red bell peppers, cut lengthwise into slices
3 zucchini squash, sliced and roasted or grilled
1 medium-size red onion, sliced
1 or 2 medium-size tomatoes, sliced
1 ripe avocado, peeled and sliced
8 large slices Italian bread, such as ciabatta (I used gluten-free whole grain sandwich bread)
2 Tablespooons (30 ml) balsamic vinegar
salt and pepper, to taste (optional)
olive oil, for brushing
To make pesto, combine basil, garlic, pine nuts, and salt in food processor or blender. Mix until smooth. Add oil and lemon juice; process until smooth. If not using immediately, store tightly covered in refrigerator for up to 2 days.
To make panini, divide bell peppers, squash, onion, tomatoes, and avocado evenly among 4 slices of bread. Drizzle each with vinegar, spread on some pesto (about 2 tablespoons [30 ml]), and sprinkle with salt and pepper, if desired.
Top each with remaining bread slices, lightly brush outside with a little olive oil, and press in a panini maker or place on tabletop grill. Press until lightly browned and hot. You also could cook the lightly oiled sandwiches in a skillet instead of grilling them. Serve immediately.
*The recipe calls for Italian bread, but I substituted gluten-free whole grain sandwich bread. I like Udi's the best because it's soft and sturdier than other gf breads. Most grocery stores carry it.
*Try to slice the veggies and avocado as thinly as possible. It's a pretty thick sandwich and it did fall apart when I first bit into it. Next time I'll make sure to use thinner slices so it holds up better.
*If you don't have a panini press, don't worry! It can be cooked in a skillet or grill pan with another pan pressed on top, then flip and cook the other side.
*I think very thinly sliced eggplant would also be fantastic on this sandwich.
*Because I was worried it would make the bread too soggy, I saved the balsamic vinegar to drizzle on after I cooked it. The pesto made the bread a little soggy too.
*You can easily make this ahead of time, but don't assemble it until right before you want to serve it. (I really hate soggy bread!)Nutritional Information per serving:
Serving size:1 sandwich
Calories per serving:359
Fat per serving:21 g
Protein per serving:9 g
Carbohydrates per serving:38 g
Fiber per serving:7 g
Cholesterol per serving0 mg
Sodium per serving:251 mg
Well, up until I met this panini I thought I had found the perfect sandwich. I was wrong. This is the perfect sandwich for me. I loved it! As I said above, I was a little concerned whether or not it would be as good without the cheese.The creamy avocado took the place of cheese. The pesto is really good too. I think I’ll start adding lemon juice every time I make pesto. If you aren’t vegan, a slice of fresh mozzarella or smoked provolone would go really well with the veggies. But I promise, I didn’t miss it even one little bit!
Did this recipe deserve the cover spotlight?
Definitely! I know it’s common to think that something can’t be as delicious if it’s plant-based. I think if there’s one recipe to change minds about vegan food, this is it.