Save the silverware and eat roast beef and carmelized onion panini!

December 11, 2006


Dispense with the fork and the knife. Away with that white dinner napkin.

Sometimes you just want food you can pick up with your hands and gnaw on. Among these foods, hot pressed sandwiches (and french fries) must be royalty.

Since our former panini press met an unfortunate end (involving a three foot drop and untimely meeting with the kitchen floor), we’ve been deprived of hot pressed sandwiches. I blame faulty construction of obviously flimsy sandwich presses that can’t stand one small toss off a kitchen counter. My husband prefers to blame me for creating circumstances where said press could topple off said counter. You say banana, I say tomato.

Anyway, we now have in our possession a far superior (and sturdier) panini press that can conquer the great heights of my husband’s roast beef-havarti-carmelized onion-spicy mustard-Italian bread-style sandwich. Even the name is a mouthful. The sandwich may sound simple, but it is oh-so-satisfying. The trick is to combine quality ingredients — a mound of lovingly carmelized onions, freshly roasted sliced beef, a big thick crusty loaf of bread, and superior brown mustard with those little mustard seeds strewn throughout. Pile those ingredients high and fire up your panini press. You won’t be sorry — and, bonus, you can use your bare mits to heave that sandwich right up to your maw. Enjoy!

Click here to download the recipe for this panini.

We will not discuss the death of our first panini press. It’s one of those controversial stories that in no way makes me look good. So I will just tell you that my wife is a wonderful person and all is forgotten about the unfortunate events surrounding its fall.

While there is nothing to say about the tragic loss of a loyal, faithful and fantastic kitchen gadget, there are things to say about panini. First, they are awesome. I know it’s just a toasted sandwich. I know what’s in the sandwich I make here isn’t super special. But, the press gives so much via the toasting and the compression of the bread that it really makes a simple sandwich both more delicious and more posh.

Second, panini are great for parties, especially parties this time of the year surrounding sporting events—most of which in the US involve the word Bowl proceeded by a large corporate sponsor and, if you are lucky, some sort of agriculture product (e.g. The FedEx Orange Bowl or The Allstate Sugar Bowl or, yes, the Papajohns.com Bowl). You can pre-make a stack of these sandwiches and have people toast themselves or start churning them out once the game starts.


Finally, there are two little prep issues for this dish that I think the are important—the onions and the bread. The onions here are caramelized. This means they take a long time to cook for them to become dark brown and delicious. Unfortunately, this means this isn’t a quick into your fridge and pile things up sort of sandwich. But if you invest the time, the results are worth it. The good part is that you can do caramelize the onions in advance. Simply move them to a bowl when you are done, cover and refrigerate. They keep well for a couple days.

As for the bread, slice it thick. I think this is something you really have to understand when making panini. It’s crucial because thick bread allows the true benefits of the compression and the toasting. If you don’t use thick bread, the oil given off by the cheese or moisture given off by other ingredients will cause the bread to get soaked and not toast. The result is a flimsy sandwich. So when in doubt, make your slice thicker.

If you have a name for our ‘wich, we’d love it. If you’ve got other panini tips, we’d love them even more. Otherwise, I hope you enjoy and share your thoughts.

Roast Beef and Caramelized Onion Panini
Yields: 4-6 large sandwiches
1 loaf rustic Italian bread
2 large onion (sliced)
1 lbs roast beef
1/2 brown mustard
1/2 lbs havarti cheese
2 Tbsp. butter
dark brown mustard

1. In a large pan over medium heat, add the butter. Let the butter melt and coat the pan. Add the onions to the pan. Lightly salt. Cook for 30 to 45 min stirring regularly until a deep brown. Remove from heat place in a covered container. Refrigerate until you are ready to use.

2. Preheat your panini press to high.

3. Slice the bread into thick slices (3/4’’ – 1’’ ). Coat both slices liberally with brown mustard.

4. Layer on the havarti, onion and the roast beef and complete the construction of the sandwich.

5. Place on press for 5-7 min. The sandwich should be toasted and brown. Let rest for 2-3 min. Slice, serve and enjoy!


  1. Oh my…those look good! Really, really good!

  2. In case you decide to see how this press stands up against tile, a forman grill makes an okay panini press in a pinch. You just have to manually apply the pressure in the begining. But for those of us who’s kitchens are just not big enough, it will do.

  3. Ever since my waffle maker caught fire I haven’t been able to enjoy tasty things like panini, maybe you can send me some of yours…

  4. That looks like it beats the pants off of my panini-made grilled cheese sandwiches! And now I’m hungry.

  5. Those DO look fabulous!

    I think a terrific kitchen invention would be a combo-maker….it would look like a waffle iron, but have interchangeable plates; for waffles, for panini, maybe for pizelles and even a basic plate for grilling. I would totally buy it!

  6. I use my Lodge cast iron grill pan for panini. But I have a soft spot in my heart for cast iron.

  7. Thanks, they were good and easy to make. As for the nature of this new bundle of panini making goodness it was a gift from Tessie, my sister and also your fellow commentator.

    Its a pretty good one too. It’s a Cuisinart Griddler. It has two features that my wife and I both like about it. First and most importantly, it has removable plates which make for superior cleaning. The long dead model which my wife hated when she did dishes did not have this feature and she would rant, and yes I mean really really rant, about how stupid that was because you had to put the whole thing (which is electrical) in the skin to clean it.

    The second feature which I’m yet to use is that it comes with a second set of plates which you can use to make a flat surface. This means you can open it up all the way and make two flat frying surface perfect for pancakes and eggs. Seems to me this should be a tailgaters and RV-types dream. So while its not Panini-Waffler combo, its pretty darn close, and heck Cuisinart my sell “waffle plates” and I’ve just not found them yet.

    Oh, I’m with Kevin on the heavy Lodge cast-iron technique. I also think Alton Brown on Good Eats used foil covered bricks to do the job. Luckily sweet Tessie has given me a cooking power tool so I don’t have to be creative at all.

  8. I just bought a panini press and cooked up a beef brisket last night with the idea of doing sandwiches tonight. I searched for some ideas on what to add and found your post. Carmalized onions it is! Off to go start them cooking…

  9. Thanks for the tip on the carmelized onions—I found this site on a search I did for “Can you carmelize onions in advance” I make this same panini, but I also use roasted red peppers and I hold the mustard,but add a thin layer of mayo. So delicious. I love your story about your old panini press…I hope it lived a good life.

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