When we first moved to New Jersey, we rented a condo until we got settled and 1 block away was a Panera Bread restaurant. I thought I had died and gone to heaven! I don’t care for “fast food” much at all, but there are times when you need a little help when you just don’t have enough time in the day to fix something homemade. They were WAY above any “fast food” chain, and I instantly became addicted to their soup and half sandwich lunch combo for a light supper!
I really enjoyed several of their soups and sandwiches, but my favorite was their “Chicken Tomesto Panini”! Wow. Nothing plain and simple about this sandwich! A LOT going on here!
Tender pieces of mustard-peppered chicken, spicy sun-dried tomato pesto, field greens, roasted tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, romano, asiago, and caramelized red onion all piled onto ciabatta bread and toasted in a panini maker! Not your joe-average-fast-food-slap-it-together-sandwich by a long shot!! This was more casual dining, upscale bistro, quaint cafe style! Their biggest compliment is that I wish I had thought of it! I was in heaven!
And then………..we moved.
We bought a house and moved to another town far away. I craved their sandwiches and soups so badly I thought I was going to need therapy! Though therapy was a serious consideration, I decided that it would be much cheaper to invest in a panini maker and just figure this whole thing out myself. 😉
The bread, field greens, cheeses and onion part was a no-brainer, but the other elements were going to have to have some thought and take some figuring!
The only part of their sandwich that I didn’t quite care for were the onions. The sandwich didn’t have any crunch to it and after several trials, I came to enjoy the onions sliced thinly and raw better than cooked for this. So that part is up to your own preference.
But with all of the other things going on, you may want to just slice them, too. This does take some time, but I got into the habit of making the chicken and the oven-roasted tomatoes the day before. Then assembling and toasting was a breeze!
You’ll want to get the tomatoes started in the oven first. I like to roast them for quite awhile. I had never roasted tomatoes before, but it’s simple. Roma’s, “plum tomatoes”, are what I use and they work beautifully for this. (*While tomatoes are roasting, you can marinate the chicken.)
Start to finish:
Ready for the oven!
First side done and lookin’ good!
Second side done!
Cooled, plated and ready to go!
Part 2 is the chicken. Just as simple! I’m blessed with having 2 ovens, so while the tomatoes were still roasting and getting close to being done, I got the chicken started in the other oven. If you have one oven, you’ll have to do this after the tomatoes. So just plan on it time-wise. It’s worth it, trust me!
I used boneless skinless thighs, but you could use breasts or a combination if you’d like. The thighs worked really, really well, though! So tender and juicy!
Nicely marinated in spicy brown mustard and EVOO and ready for the oven!
Done and gorgeous!
Sliced and ready for sandwiches! Just look how juicy and tender!
The rest of the ingredients waiting patiently!
Assembled and ready to cook!
And it’s lunchtime! Pull up a chair and we can split it!
Trust me on this, if you, too, enjoyed this panini from the Panera Bread restaurant (I heard they stopped making them), you’ll LOVE my version! It’s just as good if not better! My hubby says it’s better, so I’ll take his word for it! 😉
My recipe was shared for:
My recipe was chosen as a Host Favorite!
MY OWN CHICKEN TOMESTO PANINI (BETTER THAN PANERA’S!)
Makes 3-4 paninis
For the Oven-Roasted Tomatoes:
2 roma tomatoes thinly sliced into 8 slices each
fresh cracked black pepper and coarse salt to taste
1 1/2 tsp. dried thyme, divided
2 tsp. minced garlic, divided
2 tsp. EVOO
For the Mustard-Peppered Chicken Thighs:
3 large boneless skinless chicken thighs, trim fat
1 Tbl. spicy brown mustard
1 Tbl. EVOO
fresh cracked black pepper
For the Spicy Sun-Dried Tomato Pesto:
1 cup sun-dried tomato pesto, I use Classico’s
1 Tbl. chili powder
Rest of Ingredients:
2-4 ciabatta rolls
3/4 – 1 cup packed field or spring greens that includes arugula (*don’t use the baby spinach leaves though, they don’t do well for this)
thin slices of red onion (to preference)
6-8 thick slices fresh mozzarella (2 slices per sandwich)
6-8 tsp. fresh grated romano cheese
6-8 tsp. fresh grated asiago cheese, *less if too strong for you but I love it!
EVOO for brushing rolls
Mix the sun-dried tomato pesto and the chili powder well in small bowl. Set in fridge to meld.
For the Oven-Roasted Tomatoes:
Preheat oven to 275 degrees. Slice tomatoes into 16 slices (8 slices each.) Place onto parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Sprinkle with salt, pepper and half of the thyme. (Crush thyme between your fingers when adding to release their flavor and crush a bit finer.) Turn each slice over, and repeat. Sprinkle with the minced garlic. Drizzle with the EVOO. Place into oven and bake for 30 minutes. Turn and bake for 30 minutes longer. Turn and bake for 15 minutes to finish them. Cool on sheet. Remove to plate, cover and chill while chicken bakes.
For the Chicken:
After you put the tomatoes into the oven, get the chicken going. In a small bowl, whisk together well the spicy brown mustard and EVOO. Trim chicken thighs of fat, place into a small ziplock baggie. Spoon half of the mustard mixture onto the thighs, flip bag over and spoon the rest onto the thighs. Close baggie removing the air. Squish around to coat the chicken entirely. Place in fridge to marinate while tomatoes are roasting.
When tomatoes are done, remove chicken from fridge and turn oven up to 350 degrees. Place chicken onto parchment paper-lined baking sheet pretty side-up. Sprinkle with fresh cracked pepper to taste. Let rest while oven is heating up. (About 15 minutes.) Bake for about 30 minutes. Remove from oven and let rest and cool a bit. (You can of course do this in a second oven, too, when tomatoes are about done.)
When chicken has cooled for at least 5 minutes, slice into nice thin slices on the bias. (If making ahead of time or the day before, don’t slice, place into an air-tight container, and pop into fridge until ready to use. Also freezes well.)
Now it’s time to assemble! Put your panini together in the order as follows:
*bottom piece of ciabatta
*spread with spicy tomato pesto (about 2 Tbl. or to taste)
*2-4 slices of roasted tomato (to your preference)
*a little bit of field greens, not too much though
*a few paper-thin slices of purple onion
*slices of chicken
*2 thick slices fresh mozzarella
*spread inside top bread with more tomato pesto, about 2 Tbl. more or to taste)
*place on top securely and lightly press
Preheat panini maker to 325 degrees. When heated, brush top of sandwich with EVOO and place, top side-down, onto hot panini grill. Brush bottom with EVOO and close lid adjusting to lay flat and pressing lightly. Cook until done, about 4-5 minutes. Remove with heavy plastic spatula flipping over onto cutting board. Slice on the bias and serve hot.
*Depending on what bread is being used and the size of it, 2 ciabatta rolls will fit on most panini makers. When 2 are done, place into warm oven on baking sheet to keep hot while grilling 1-2 more.
*This is my OWN recipe, and is in no way Panera Bread Company’s recipe. It is simply my own interpretation of their recipe.