I started cooking when I was in high school because I grew up with my dad and he (although lovingly tried hard) wasn’t the greatest cook. So every weekday morning, I would make these chicken pesto panini sandwich for myself, and carry this panini in a brown paper bag…up and down this hill on Slater and eventually to class. But my Japanese classmate, Eric’s stomach would growl and he told me he didn’t like his parent’s food, nor our school’s food. So I asked him if he’d like me to make him one. And he hugged me (he doesn’t hug girls) because he loved it so much, and word spread… so I’d bring 3…4…5 sandwiches to class and share with my friends. And we were all pretty happy at lunch. I used to use Costco’s canned chicken because my brother had a TON, but why not go fresher? It’s such an easy recipe that goes a lonnnng way. After I moved to Tokyo, I also fell in love with shiso because of its refreshing qualities. If you don’t have it, that’s okay! Just use 4 C of basil instead and if you have 1/2 parmesan cheese, add that as well.. You can also save your homemade pesto for about 5-7 days if refrigerated.
I also wanted to feature this poem done by my friend Jake Raquel in Tokyo to describe in a poetic fashion how nostalgic this panini is for me.
“HOW TO MAKE AN ORDINARY PANINI, EXTRAORDINARY.” by Jake Raquel
In a brown bag
Was an ordinary panini
Wrapped in my ambitions and dreams
To be a hero at lunch time.
Made just for me.
But It was in those cold days
High school used to bring,
I learned the main ingredient
That sweetens and warms everything.
The secret that could change
Food, like my panini are meant to be shared.
Like a promise kept and truth, unbent.
My heart is full, If I can feed a friend.
Cook chicken breasts with chopped garlic cloves on an oiled, non-stick frying pan under medium heat until well done on both sides. Transfer from pan to plate and slice the chicken breasts to 1/2″ strips.
Wash the eggplant and slice the eggplant into t 1/4″ thick slices. Salt them to remove excess moisture. Cook these slices in the same pan until soft and lightly browned on both sides.
Cut the ciabatta slices into about 1/2″ thick slices.
Add a spoonful of shiso pesto (recipe below ) onto each ciabatta bread slice and spread evenly with a knife.
Add the brie cheese, chicken, sundried tomatoes, cooked chicken breasts, salt and pepper to taste.
Press grill down until golden brown. Then flip over and cross it so you have grill marks on both sides.
Cut in half diagonally and serve warm!
Combine all ingredients in increments in a food processor or blender until well blended. Add salt and pepper to taste. Use it for the sandwich spread or store in refrigerator for up to 5-7 days.