Panini-Style Eggplant Parmigiana + Tefal Optigrill Review

A panini without bread? Yes, eggplant is the perfect bread sub for this healthy lunch or snack idea. Slather the thin slices in pesto and fill with mozzarella, red pepper, kale and tomatoes and grill to perfection. Easy and perfect for the whole family.I am a lucky bunny, I am. Everyday I get to not only do what I truly love, but sometimes others want to pay me for it, or give me stuff.ūüėČ

Being a food blogger I am frequently offered products¬†for review. As I am more about the recipes, I tend to turn down most of what comes into my inbox. Sometimes I have to laugh – as with one¬†of today’s messages: would I like to review a butcher’s pack of meat? (??!!) Or, recently, would I not absolutely jump at the chance of ploughing my way through a giant box of chocolates? Actually “yes” to the latter but a) it doesn’t fit with my blog, b) it takes me two weeks to eat a modest bar of chocolate…

A panini without bread? Yes, eggplant is the perfect bread sub for this healthy lunch or snack idea. Slather the thin slices in pesto and fill with mozzarella, red pepper, kale and tomatoes and grill to perfection. Easy and perfect for the whole family.When I was approached by Tefal with an offer of their newest Optigrill I thought, what would I do with a grill? Although I am an omnivore, I rarely cook meat, usually only if my father-in-law is coming over. And the images I associate with countertop grills are of grill-marked beef and chicken – not vegetables or tofu. Would this be of any use to me? Well, there was only one way to find out. With slight trepidation (and thoughts of yet more garage clutter) I said “yes.”

When the large box arrived courtesy of a smiling courier (they always seem so pleasant – what’s their secret?) I opened it up to find an impressively handsome machine. It very much looks like a boy’s toy. The enclosed instruction manual was comprehensive and clear, but also enclosed were¬†several thick, wipeable¬†cards that seem to be kind of idiot’s guides in case one¬†can’t be bothered reading the manual. So far, so good. I duly read the instructions because¬†I am not a man.ūüėČ and set about getting to know the controls. Well, there isn’t much to get to grips with: it is so easy to use.tefal optigrill

Why a new grill? I already have an ancient (perhaps 20 year’s old) George Foreman grill that has seen a bit of action in¬†the past, but largely stays in the garage – nestled with the keyboard, old bicycle, and mini trampoline. It gives patchy results, seems to have inconsistent heating areas, smokes a bit, has no doneness indicator, the non-stick is a bit questionable and it is not the type you can easily take apart and clean. It’s a bit scary to use actually. Do you have something similar?

The difference between the two types of grill is that the Tefal Optigrill¬†is largely fool-proof. No constant peeking – just press¬†a¬†button and walk away. Presumably to prepare the rest of the meal, but perhaps you have something more exciting to do in the intervening 2-8 minutes.ūüôā. When cooking is finished you¬†just unclip the grilling plates – very easy – and either hand wash them or pop in the dishwasher. It is just as easy to slot the plates back in place too. If something is tricky to use or clean – no matter how good the result – I will more than likely rarely use it. And then I feel very, very guilty.

The Optigrill’s¬†selling point seems to be that one can achieve restaurant quality steak at home. Not a huge selling point for me and perhaps you too, but reading further – and looking at reviews¬†online – the key features are the six (admittedly meat-centric) cooking programmes, a manual setting and the, to my¬†mind, quite innovative colour-changing cooking level indicator button. It is quite hypnotic to watch, but then again I am easily¬†entertained these days. Another core feature is that it¬†adapts the temperature and cooking cycle to thickness and number of items¬†on the grill plate. Pretty nifty.

To cook it is a simple matter of deciding what programme you need – for vegetables it is either “manual”¬†or “sausage” – select the correct icon, press “okay” and wait for it to preheat. When the grill is heated to the optimum temperature – which varies according to the programme’s particular¬†temperature – you open the lid and place your food on the curved bottom plate and lower the top. And walk away. Depending on what programme you have chosen you get a beep and changing button¬†colour for various levels of doneness, so that you can have the result that is right for you. With the manual button it is a constant high temperature, and for most of what I’ve cooked this is my favourite programme. I call it the toastie programmeūüėČ

Korean-spiced salmon followed by grilled veggies

Korean-spiced salmon followed by grilled veggies

So, what have I cooked? The first thing was this funky little eggplant parmigiana. When Tefal contacted me this idea quite literally popped into my mind, but it was quickly followed by Korean-ish salmon tail fillet, plain grilled veggies (to go with the salmon) , and a parade of toasties. All superb. I plan to get more adventurous, but I may just make mushroom or tofu banh mi in this meantime.

I have read less good things about how it cooks steaks¬†– that it more or less steams rather than grills them.¬†¬†But others write¬†that this is because the slightly disgruntled user hasn’t it let it preheat to the optimum temperature. I don’t know the answer on that one. No one however seems to have a quibble with the juiciness, tenderness or taste of whatever they have cooked. With the fish I will say that it cooked it perfectly – very moist, and just cooked through – but the grill marks were rather more decorative than indicating any caramelisation. Which is probably just as well as caramelisation isn’t the healthiest result. Although the programmes are mostly meat, there are also chicken and fish settings and a frozen food setting. And of course, the “toastie”/manual setting.fig, comte cheese and rocket panini

Is this a great product for a vegetarian? Probably not. If all you made in it were toasties they would be damn expensive toasties. But if, like me, you eat most things but prefer vegetables, and wish to upgrade your grill, it is a good and efficient product, especially if it is saving you heating up an oven for just one or two people. There is also minimal mess (none really) and smell compared to stovetop grilling: You would not have even known I was cooking salmon. I can see it being very useful to quickly cook some vegetables for a warm salad or other dish, vegetable and tofu kebabs, marinated tofu, grilled fruits (pineapple!), flatbreads, stuffed breads like this Turkish-style gozleme, frozen and fresh veggie burgers Рloads of things. But it would be best for an omnivore for sure. From an energy consumption perspective it is obviously less   good than grilling on a stovetop grill over gas, but I think it compares favourably if you would otherwise use an electric stove or would be heating a typical oven.

Now, to the recipe! Just to prove that it is not just for¬†steaks, here is my very juicy and flavourful¬†Panini-Style Eggplant Parmigiana. You will see that it is incredibly easy, in keeping with the type of grill I am using. The great thing about doing this kind of recipe in an electric¬†grill is¬†that you don’t have to flip it. Flipping is easy for steaks, but not so easy – or safe – for recipes with fillings. Fillings that¬†get very, very hot. This recipe can of course be used on any similar appliance, or even in the oven – after a little searing in a hot pan on the hob/stove. I have also snapped a few other ideas you may like too, including today’s lunch. My second lunch, as I have not been to sleep since viewing the lunar eclipse and can’t remember being so hungry in a long time. It might now be time to preheat the grill and pop on some veggies for a third meal.ūüôā

What do you like to make in an electric grill?

A panini without bread? Yes, eggplant is the perfect bread sub for this healthy lunch or snack idea. Slather the thin slices in pesto and fill with mozzarella, red pepper, kale and tomatoes and grill to perfection. Easy and perfect for the whole family.

Panini-Style Eggplant Parmigiana (naturally grain-free)

  • Servings: 2
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

A panini, but not as you know it. Just use this idea and make it your own. Eggplants are the obvious choice as a sub for the normal bread, but why not try large courgettes/zucchini, portabella mushrooms, pumpkin, or long, flattened pointed peppers? The only must-do is keep the slices on the thin side, and evenly cut. xx

1 fat eggplant, sliced lengthways ‚Äď slices not thicker than 4mm if possible*

2 tbsp pesto of choice

¬Ĺ red pepper, sliced thinly

1 small ball of mozzarella (smoked would be lovely) ‚Äď about ¬Ĺ a ball used

a few fresh basil leaves

1 tbsp olive oil or rapeseed oil

Extras: handful of chopped kale; 1 ripe but firm tomato, sliced

Special equipment: Panini-type press, counter-top grill, or sandwich grill/toaster. You could also sear this in a pan and bake in a 180C oven for 25 minutes. Instructions given are for the Tefal Optigrill.

*You will be using the four best slices. Grill the rest and add into other main dishes, or blend and add to hummus for a speedy baba ganoush.

1. Heat your appliance or turn on the oven. If you are using a Tefal Optigrill, press the ‚ÄúSausage‚ÄĚ icon button, then ‚ÄúOK‚ÄĚ.

2. Slick the four slices of eggplant with the oil on one side only. Flip the slices and spread with the pesto. Top two slices with sliced pepper, torn pieces of cheese, basil leaves and either the tomatoes or the kale.panini-style eggplant parmigiana

3. Once your appliance is at the right temperature ‚Äď the Optigrill beeps when it is at the optimum temperature for each programme ‚Äď sandwich together the two ‚Äúpaninis‚ÄĚ and lay on the hot plate. Close the lid. Cook until the eggplant is very soft. I cooked mine until the cooking level indicator turned red ‚Äď well done. The high water content of vegetables means that they usually need longer in any appliance of this type than an equivalent thickness of meat.

4. Carefully remove the two panini with a silicone or wooden spatula. Serve and eat immediately, perhaps with a green salad and some crisp veggies to add more texture and goodness to the meal.

fig, comte cheese & rocket paniniThe Tefal Optigrill retails at approximately £150 and is available from numerous UK retailers as well as Amazon.

You can read a further review/perspective of this product on Elizabeth’s Kitchen Diary (her giveaway is closed though). And I am pleased to pop this over to #RecipeOfTheWeek over at A Mummy Too, as well as at Tinned Tomatoes for Jac’s Meatfree Mondays.

Kellie’s Food To Glow was sent a Tefal Optigrill for review. As always, I was not paid for my opinion and views are my own.¬†