I hosted a small dinner party (a panini bar dinner party to be exact!) in honor of a dear friend a few months back. I thought the idea of a panini bar could easily be used for a bridal shower, a wedding rehearsal dinner or a bridal brunch/luncheon so I am sharing it with you. Here's a breakdown of the food and the simplicity of this great entertaining idea.
We enjoyed a delicious tomato basil soup to go along with our panini sandwiches. (The recipe for the soup is below.) The soup was served in coffee cups. Guests could choose from three different types of bread (sour dough, whole wheat and french baguettes) and three different cheeses fresh mozzarella, Irish cheddar, and French brie). We carved an amazing roasted turkey to add some meat to our sandwiches. Toppings included sliced, vine tomatoes, fresh basil leaves, avocado, roasted red peppers, caramelized onions and grilled mushrooms. I made a chipotle mayo spread for those looking for some heat. And finally, a beautifully tossed salad was the perfect side to this meal.
I created a print out of some panini suggestions which gave guests some inspiration. I decided to name each sandwich just for fun. It turned out to be an easy way for guests to talk about their selections to each other.
Spreading everything out on the kitchen island was the perfect set up space. Guests were able to assemble their sandwiches individually. When it was time to melt them, I placed several sandwiches onto the panini maker at once. I had two machines for our group of 20. In just a few minutes, everyone had their custom meal.
The Prep Time:
What I love about this idea is how simple all the set up was. Besides roasting the turkey, it was all done relatively quickly. Chopping and grilling up some toppings took no time at all...most of it was done ahead of time. When everything is spread out, it looked so colorful and beautiful.
Tomato Basil Soup
The soup I made was a crock pot meal. (I love my crock pot!) Here is how I made it:
1 large yellow onion
6-8 gloves of garlic
32 oz of crushed tomatoes
32 oz of whole tomatoes
32 oz of tomato puree
4 cups of chicken or vegetable stock
1/2 cup of fresh basil
salt and pepper
1/4 cup of all purpose flour
4 tablespoons of soft butter
4 cups of finely grated Parmesan cheese
4 cups of heavy cream
1) Rough chop up onions and garlic and add canned tomatoes, stock, basil, salt and pepper to your crock pot. Cook for 2-3 hours on high or 4 hours on low.
2) Puree the soup once it has finished cooking. (I used my Vitamix in four increments) At this point I transitioned the soup to a large pot to cook the rest of the way on the stove.
3) Create a paste (a roux) with flour and butter in a medium sized bowl. Add some of the hot soup to the roux and mix together well to remove all lumps. Add the roux to the large pot of soup. Cook on high heat, whisking consistently to avoid clumps. Add heavy cream and continue to whisk. Next add the cheese. Once the soup boils and thickens, lower the heat to low and allow it to continue to simmer until all the cheese is melted. Add salt to taste. Serve in coffee mugs.
Makes 15 serving as a side dish
I knew that this idea would be tasty. But I didn't realize how much fun guests would have experimenting with their food. Most came back for a second sandwich. They compared flavor combinations with one another. They enjoyed the process more than I anticipated. This idea was a big hit!
Things to keep in mind for a successful panini party...
*Have your panini makers hot and ready. You'll need one machine for every 6-8 guests to avoid a back up in the line. If you are trying to stay on budget, ask your friends to borrow theirs or look for panini machines on Craigslist. There always seems to be a nice supply of people selling them.
*Have lots of variety and colors in your toppings. Food presentation is so important when entertaining. Bringing variety and color to the table creates excitement and anticipation for your guests.
*Good quality makes all the difference. Use good quality, fresh bread from a local baker and block cheeses that you can slice yourself. It will add a tasty dimension to your panini sandwich.
*Cutting the cheese thinly will allow it to melt faster. I served the cheese on a large wooden cutting board.
Are you planning a bridal brunch or a rehearsal? If so, I would love to hear about you menu plans. Share your ideas in the comments.
Photo credit to my good friend Monica Vazquez.
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