Crafting the Perfect Classic Italian Panini

You dream of Italy. You dream of running off and touring the romantic cityscapes, shopping the high-end boutiques, imbibing in the quality wine, and absolutely indulging in a world-renowned cuisine. Unfortunately, not everyone can go run off for a dream Italian vacation or has the time for it. So what is the closest thing to an Italian getaway you can have? It is enjoying the food.

Skip the spaghetti and meatballs, though. It’s too played out and more Italian American than actual Italian. One of the quickest ways to capture the heart of Italian cuisine is with a sandwich, more specifically, a Panino, or, as we know it, the Panini. While we are familiar with it as the Panini, that is actually just the plural version of the Panino, or what Italians refer to their pressed sandwiches as. However, a grilled sandwich by any other name still tastes as good.

While many use the Panini as simply an Italian sandwich technique to carry out all their toasted sandwich dreams, using classic Italian Panini flavors to create a traditional Panini is an unforgettable experience. Experimentation is great, but sometimes there is just no beating the original flavors.

The problem with chasing a traditional Italian Panini is that there is no one singular recipe. Cafes all around the country make them differently and each region has their own preferred flavors. However, there is a simple Panini recipe and many ways to transform it from good to great.

Simple Traditional Italian Panini Recipe

Italian Panini is simple food. It is meant to be a portable food that you can grab and walk off with. This means that traditional Panini sandwiches don’t have ten tons of ingredients that are liable to slide out when eating quickly on the go.


  • Two Hearty Slices of Ciabatta
  • Mozzarella or Provolone Cheese
  • Fresh Basil
  • Prosciutto di Parma
  • Roasted Red Pepper Spread
  • Olive Oil for Drizzling

These are the ingredients for just one of many classic Italian Panini sandwiches. Any combination of Italian flavors can be used to create a simple sandwich, and that is the true beauty of the Panini. What this sandwich does offer is a mild, but easily melted cheese that doesn’t fight the earthiness provided by the red pepper spread or the saltiness of the prosciutto. The olive oil drizzle and the basil are use to round it all off with a burst of freshness.

Those elements all together make for a quality Panini. You need a protein with enough flavor to be the star of the show with a cheese to lend some flavor, but primarily be that warm, gooey goodness that makes cheese so wonderful in the first place. Every sandwich needs something for freshness, which is typically basil, lettuce, or tomato while the spread it there to offer something wholly unique. Spreads can range from the aforementioned red pepper spread to a simple drizzle of olive oil, a flavored mayonnaise, or a spritz of balsamic vinaigrette. The spread is there to add a little moisture and just a little something extra to make a sandwich pop from the first bite to the last.

How to Jazz Up a Traditional Italian Panini

So once you have mastered the simple recipe above, what can you do to take it up a notch? One of the easiest ways to reinvent an old sandwich is to change up the bread. Instead of ciabatta, try switching it up with a nice baguette, flavored focaccia, filone, or even a sweet roll if you are feeling particularly inventive.

Another way to jazz up a traditional Panini is to add in or switch out your proteins. The fact that Italian Panini sandwiches use mild cheeses means that the flavors of the proteins are allowed to shine through. So by all means, try out a nice salami or roast beef. Go crazy with a good smoked turkey. Maybe even skip traditional protein altogether and slap on a few slices of grilled eggplant.

Some great traditional Panini recipes include:

  • The Vegetarian – Grilled eggplant, grilled zucchini, roast red pepper, mozzarella, and balsamic vinaigrette on a baguette.
  • The “Club” – Smoked turkey, pesto, baby greens, and tomatoes on fresh focaccia.
  • The Savory Beef – Roast beef, gorgonzola cheese, pine nuts, baby greens, and tomato on rosemary focaccia.
  • The Caprese – Fresh mozzarella, basil leaves, and tomatoes drizzled with olive oil or balsamic vinaigrette on two thick slices of ciabatta.