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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. 😉

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. 😉 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. :-). 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 programme 😉

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 – loads 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. 🙂

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 – slices not thicker than 4mm if possible*

2 tbsp pesto of choice

œ red pepper, sliced thinly

1 small ball of mozzarella (smoked would be lovely) – about Âœ 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 “Sausage” icon button, then “OK”.

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 – the Optigrill beeps when it is at the optimum temperature for each programme – sandwich together the two “paninis” 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 – 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 ÂŁ150 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. 

44 thoughts on “Panini-Style Eggplant Parmigiana + Tefal Optigrill Review

  1. Susan says:

    Just finishing up my eggplant season in the garden and I have some beauties! I also have a grill but never thought of this! Thanks as always!

    1. Thanks Susan. It would be so easy to just leave out the cheese, of course. I think the homegrown eggplants are on there way out here too. I didn’t grow them as we would need a greenhouse for them to mature properly. Lucky you in “Hot-lanta” though 😉

  2. Now this is a nice remake on a classic, and perhaps an easy way to get my eggplant fix in since my husband is not a big fan. I happen to have a panini press so I think that will work well here!

    1. I hope you make it Katie! Perhaps a portabella mushroom version for hubs?

  3. debspots says:

    Your pictures are so lovely! I wonder how being sent a free thing impacts your thinking about that thing? I wonder how you would have felt differently if you had paid retail price for it? Tricky!

    1. Thanks for taking the time to comment. I do think I was careful to cover the negatives as well as the positives, Deb. And I did point out that it wouldn’t perhaps be a good buy for strict vegetarians, so I hope that answers your question. I always, always give an honest assessment of any product I deliberately choose to review. Before I accepted it I read around to see what others thought and if there were any specific niggles. I wouldn’t want to review something only to slate it – boring and not useful to readers. I would rather turn things down that don’t suit or that others consistently find poor value. That said, I do often get asked to look at new products so I have to go by gut feeling, reading about the company, that kind of thing. I hope you like the recipe, Debs. The optigrill is sitting out ready for another experiment!

  4. Nandini says:

    Love your healthier version of a Panini specially since I try to watch out my carbs. Great recipe Kellie 🙂

    1. I was thinking this almost no-carb recipe would be lovely with garlic bread 😉

      1. Nandini says:

        Now that would be a sin Kellie 🙂

  5. Its such a creative Panini – looks gorgeous and am sure would be tasty as well!

  6. hailhop22 says:

    I’m not a vegetarian but absolutely appreciate these wonderful recipes. I’ve never thought about grilling eggplant for a panini, great idea! I’ll have to try that.

    1. Thank you! It really does work well in an electric grill thingy. I hope you get a chance to try it this way or that you tweak it and make it your own style 🙂

  7. You are a genius, this looks so amazing! It’s really hard to go wrong with these classic flavours. I love the look of the Optigrill – the paninis look so good!

  8. sarah says:

    Sounds like an impressive piece of kit. Lovely recipe too!

  9. Love the grilling technique, any recipe involving grilling or chargrilling of eggplant definitely as my attention.Will try it out!

  10. Love the aubergine paninis!! They look so good 🙂

    1. Thanks Miss Elaine. I value your opinion. 🙂

      1. Hey, you know you always win in my book 🙂

  11. And I think you’re right, not so useful for us vegetarians..

    1. It would be an expensive way to always make pan inis and veggies, but as we eat fish (and I have a few dessert ideas for it!) it will earn its stay in the kitchen. But for a full-time veggie, no.

      1. I think you’re right 😉

  12. Oh I love the idea of this as a light lunch! And what is it about grill marks that makes food look extra delicious?!

    1. I know. Something a bit primal. A bit seductive even. 🙂

  13. this is beautiful… I love the idea of the layered parmigiana. I too was sent the optigrill and it’s great but we don’t eat a huge amount of meat at home so I used it a couple of times and it now lives in its box in the loft. It’s a shame really. I guess if we had a big family and were big meat eaters then yes…

    1. Oh, we eat fish twice a week and sometimes I will make some up for the OH to use in things for his lunch, so I don’t think this will go to the garage. I have also used it for quickly done grilled veggies to put in other things rather than switching on the oven. It certainly depends on one’s lifestyle but it is good gear if one can afford it. I bet it can be found for cheaper than the RRP online. Thanks for commenting, Dom.

  14. Lauren says:

    great blog, awesome pictures, amazing review. thanks for taking this offer up and using the grill. I cant wait till the day I have to filter foodie product offers in my inbox, you make me jealous. <3 check out my blog for some foodie fun too!

    1. It’s taken years. Don’t be jealous. If you keep plugging away you too can turn down offers of butcher’s meat boxes; )

      1. Lauren says:

        thanks I am still working on my blog here

  15. recipesfromapantry says:

    I have yet to use mine but I have soooooo many ideas for it (although I might have to start with your grilled eggplant.

  16. Elizabeth says:

    I am so definitely trying this in my optigrill! I have grilled aubergine, but never like this – genius!

  17. This is such a clever idea, the meatiness of sliced aubergine would work wonders in a panini. I think the optigrill has cooked it t perfection. I am not sure about the price tag though and I am with you, I still use my lean mean grilling machine for my toasties!

  18. superfitbabe says:

    Eggplant is such a great bread substitute! This looks better than any other panini I’ve seen! 😀

    1. Aw, thank you. The lighting was dodgy so my photos didn’t quite do it justice though;:/

      1. superfitbabe says:

        No, they look great! Your photography is always on point!

      2. Aw thanks so much, Cassie. 🙂

  19. This is such a great idea, Kellie!! I love eggplant! Can’t wait to try this! 🙂

  20. That is amazing Kelly!! I’m going to mention this in our Friday Newsletter 😉

  21. stateeats says:

    Nice review and even nicer panini. I too have been starving since the lunar eclipse – thought it was just me. What is up with that? – Kat

    1. I have eaten loads lately so today is a fast day for me. First one in awhile. I must stay strong!

  22. Eb Gargano says:

    What a lovely idea and so pretty! I will definitely have to have a go at this. I don’t own an optigrill type thingamajig though, so I’ll have to make it in my good old fashioned griddle pan instead. Hoping that will work, though I expect it will be a bit messier!

    1. Ha ha, just a bit! Do press it down with a spatula to get griddle marks, but maybe finish in the oven?? I just want to make sure that aubergine is cooked all the way through for you. Semi-raw aubergine – ugh 😉

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