Wood Grilled Party Panini

October 23, 2015
We have a sizable group of friends who go to a lot of football games together, and over the years our tailgates have become something of a competition. We take turns planning the meal, and not only do we try to one up each other for the most outrageously delicious creations, but we also love watching the faces of people around us when they see the feast we’re laying out. For one very important game, a couple of us decided to make the biggest panini we could, improvising the Italian sandwich press on our grill. The most important step here is marinating the vegetables so the high notes and richness of the vinaigrette stay within the sandwich. Of course, you need to flip carefully, too, so the meat itself stays in the bread.


For Vegetables:

1⁄4 cup (60 ml) each balsamic and red wine vinegar
2 cups (475 ml) extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon (1.2 g) crushed red pepper flakes
2 teaspoons (3.6 g) dried oregano
2 shallots, minced
1⁄2 cup (30 g) chopped Italian flat-leaf parsley
kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper
6 red onions, peeled and sliced 1⁄8 inch (3 mm) thick
10 plum tomatoes, cored and sliced 1⁄4 inch (6 mm) thick
1 fennel bulb, tops and core removed, sliced paper-thin (preferably using a mandolin)

For Sandwiches:

2 loaves Italian-style bread, about 1 1⁄2 feet (45 cm) long
2 pounds (1 kg) provolone, thinly sliced
2 pounds (1 kg) hot capicola, thinly sliced
2 pounds (1 kg) mortadella, thinly sliced
2 pounds (1 kg) genoa salami, thinly sliced
30 pepperoncini, stems removed and sliced 1⁄4 inch (6 mm) thick
6 roasted red peppers, peeled, seeded, cored, and cut into large pieces
10 leaves romaine lettuce, washed and patted dry
1⁄4 cup (60 ml) olive oil for brushing bread

Special Equipment:

6 to 8 bricks, wrapped in foil

To make the vegetables: In a medium mixing bowl, combine the balsamic and red wine vinegars, olive oil, red pepper flakes, dried oregano, shallots, and parsley, and liberally season with salt and pepper (you want it to be a little on the salty/peppery side). Add the onions, tomatoes, and fennel and toss to coat the vegetables with the vinaigrette. Let sit for 10 minutes, toss again, and let sit for 10 minutes more. 

To make the sandwiches: Slice the loaves in half lengthwise, then cut in half and lay the bottoms cut-side up on the counter or a large jelly-roll pan. Build the panini by evenly layering the cheese and meats on top of the bread. Spread the pepperoncini and roasted peppers evenly on top.Strain the marinating vegetables and evenly spread over the panini. Reserve the marinade/vinaigrette to use for dipping when sandwiches are done. Place the romaine leaves over the vegetables and top each sandwich with the other piece of bread. Fill a chimney half full with hardwood lump charcoal and two pieces of newspaper, and light. When flames are just starting to peek through the top of the charcoal, transfer coals to a kettle grill. When they have all reached maximum heat (you should only be able to hold your hand over the coals for 5 seconds), spread coals out in a single layer. Let the fire die down before you start grilling, so you don’t burn the bread. When you can hold your hand over the fire for 15 to 20 seconds, it’s time to start.

Place the panini on a clean grill rack over the coals. Place a large sheet pan on top of the sandwiches, and place the bricks on top of the pan. Cook for 5 minutes. Carefully remove the bricks (they may be warm/hot). Using spatulas and the help of at least one friend, very carefully turn the panini over. Replace the sheet pan and bricks and cook for 5 minutes more.

Again using your spatula and your friend(s), remove the panini and place on a large cutting board. Using a serrated knife, cut along a diagonal into 2- to 3-inch (5- to 7.5-cm) pieces. Serve hot, either drizzled with reserved vinaigrette or using the vinaigrette as a dipping sauce.

Yield: 10 to 15 servings

Excerpted from Wicked Good Barbecue (Fair Winds Press, 2015)