Artichoke and Broccoli Rabe Panini
I remember when Artichoke first opened up in New York and their claim to fame of a spinach and artichoke pie left me scratching my head thinking it was a bit much for pizza. The joint seemed like an instant success and I pretty much avoided jumping on the bandwagon until walking by one evening after leaving a bar and wanting to devour something filling. I got the spinach and artichoke slice and instantly got all the brouhaha—it wasn't necessarily the best pizza and it was kind of over the top, but when it's warranted, it most definitely satisfies a craving. Artichoke then became a regular stop, especially after drinking, when that creamy and overfilling slice was most welcomed, and it also left me with the impression that the spinach, artichoke, and cheese combo need not be reserved for a dip alone and works well in other contexts. Last summer I had an idea to try it out as a panini, but with an Italian theme going, I made some appropriate adjustments and ended up with this artichoke and broccoli rabe panini.
Spinach and artichoke dip was the inspiration here, but most of that equation got subbed out for other ingredients except for the artichokes. You don't really need a photo of me oiling and seasoning artichoke hearts, but I'm taking this as an opportunity to lament the disappearance of frozen artichokes. Artichokes have a light flavor and I find canned ones pick up a noticeable tanginess that can overshadow the taste of the vegetable itself, so I've always been a big fan of going with frozen, which used to be no problem for me get at most grocery stores. When I went looking for them for this recipe though, not one of the many store nearby had then, so I had to do some internet searching and found that Wegman's sells them under their own brand, so made a special trip there and stocked up while I was at it.
Honestly, I would think broccoli rabe would be the more difficult ingredient to find, but my local grocery seems to have this bitter green, which is in the mustard family, on the shelves year-round. You may not think it's ripe for grilling, but I grilled it before for some Philadelphia-style roast pork sandwiches and it turned out great, so I did the same here. Prep consisted of trimming off any extra-thick and tough ends after washing and drying, the tossing with oil, salt, black pepper, and crushed red pepper.
I've found an effective way to grill things that may be apt to fall through the grate is to cook them in one wadded mass. When I put the broccoli rabe over the hot fire, it was a little more spread out, but as it cooked and softened, I pushed it together into a pile and then flipped that bunch of greens occasionally until it picked up charring here and there. Another advantage to this method is it avoids over-charring, giving you just enough to get a taste of the grill without going overboard.
After the broccoli rabe was done, I put the artichokes on the grill and cooked them until they started to get some browning around the edges. Once done, I transferred them to the cutting board with the broccoli rabe and roughly chopped both.
Where a spinach and artichoke dip would usually feature cream cheese, I made another apt replacement and went with mascarpone, which isn't that far off from cream cheese really, but a little less thick and a tad on the sweeter side. To inject more flavor into the mascarpone, I grated on some parmesan and then mixed the two together.
I spread a healthy portion of the cheese mixture on both cut sides of a ciabatta loaf I had divided into three sandwich-sized portions. Then on the bottom half of the roll, I piled on the chopped artichokes and broccoli rabe before heading back to the grill.
While prepping the sandwiches, I had preheated a few cast iron presses on the hot side the grill. I used one ridged panini press and two bacon presses, which get the job done, just minus those lined press marks. After placing the sandwiches on the cool side of my two-zone fire, I placed the presses on top and compressed to start the panini action—I did this while wearing my well insulated welding gloves. The sandwiches were then done after five minutes of covered cooking, all hot, compressed, and crisp.
I envisioned this as a kind of Italian-style hot spinach and artichoke dip on a roll, and that's exactly how it tasted. You really need to be ok with the bitterness of the broccoli rabe to like this sandwich, because unlike spinach, which melds well into the whole, the broccoli rabe really stood out and defined the flavor. The bitter bite was first, but a wave of creamy cheese came next that helped temper that. The artichokes were more in the background, but did give a boost of grilled flavor overall that made this particular panini taste even more unique. While Artichoke's famous slice led me to this recipe, I really enjoyed the sandwich form over pizza because the crackling bread not only added heartiness, but even more textural contrast to the hot and gooey innards. Also, I've kind of relegated spinach and artichoke pizza to "drunk food," but the panini tasted lighter and not like a heart stopping bad decision, making it something I'm likely to enjoy at any time.
Artichoke and Broccoli Rabe Panini
- Yield 6 servings
- Prep 15 Minutes
- Cook 15 Minutes
- Total 30 Minutes
- 1 lb mascarpone cheese
- 1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
- 1 1/2 lbs broccoli rabe, rinsed and dried, thick ends trimmer
- 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided
- 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 1 lb frozen artichoke hearts, defrosted
- 6 ciabatta rolls, halved
- Kosher salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- In a small bowl, stir together mascarpone and parmesan cheeses. Set aside.
- Light one chimney full of charcoal. When all the charcoal is lit and covered with gray ash, pour out and arrange the coals on one side of the charcoal grate. Set cooking grate in place, cover grill and allow to preheat for 5 minutes. Clean and oil the grilling grate. Place the broccoli rabe in a large bowl and add in 3 tablespoons of olive oil and red pepper flakes. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Toss to thoroughly coat broccoli rabe in oil and distribute seasonings. Transfer broccoli rabe to hot side of grill and cook until wilted, bright green, and lightly charred, about 5 minutes. Transfer broccoli rabe to a cutting board and roughly chop.
- Place artichokes in now empty bowl and add in remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Toss to thoroughly coat artichokes in oil and distribute seasonings. Transfer artichokes to hot side of grill and cook, turning occasionally, until artichokes are lightly browned and starting to crisp around the edges, about 5 minutes. Transfer broccoli rabe to a cutting board and roughly chop.
- Place cast iron panini presses or foil-wrapped bricks on hot side of grill and allow to preheat while preparing the sandwiches. Spread cheese mixture on cut sides of each roll. Top bottom halves of rolls with artichokes and broccoli rabe. Place top halves of rolls atop artichokes and broccoli rabe to make a sandwich.
- Working in batches as necessary, place sandwiches close to, but not directly over, the fire. Wearing well insulated grilling or welding gloves, place panini presses or bricks on top of sandwiches, cover grill, and cook until sandwiches are heated through and well compressed, about 3 to 5 minutes. Transfer sandwiches to a plate, cut into two pieces, and serve immediately.