Panini with Lemon-Basil Pesto

Cover recipe - The Vegan Table; Copyright 2009

Cover recipe – The Vegan Table; Copyright 2009

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 (1 of 1)

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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

Ingredients:

For pesto:
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)

For panini:
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

Directions:

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.

Tips:

*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

The results:

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.

Lindsey Johnson writes the food blog, Cafe Johnsonia, and she works as a freelance recipe developer and photographer. She is the mother to three beautiful, fun children and resides in Utah. She became gluten-free in 2010 and has enjoyed the learning process that comes along with gluten-free baking and cooking. When she's not in the kitchen or behind the camera, she enjoys gardening, reading, being outside, and spending time with her husband and children.

5 Responses to “Panini with Lemon-Basil Pesto”

  1. 1

    Tieghan — August 15, 2013 @ 5:44 am

    This is so my kind of panini!! I love all basil and veggies. It is gorgeous!

  2. 2

    Faith — August 15, 2013 @ 7:53 am

    This looks amazing. You’re so right about the cheese…I would have been tempted to add a slice until I read that you really didn’t miss it! I can see how avo would be a fabulous alternative.

  3. 3

    Jen — August 15, 2013 @ 8:51 am

    Is there a good substitution for pine nuts? We have a severe pine nut allergy in our family.

    • Lindsey Johnson replied: — August 15th, 2013 @ 10:24 am

      Yes! Any kind of nut will work. I did use pine nuts in this, but usually I use almonds.

  4. 4

    Kelly Senyei | Just a Taste — August 15, 2013 @ 10:53 am

    Wow! This is absolutely stunning! Who knew a sandwich could be such a beautiful work of art?!

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