Panini with Shrimp, Avocado & Mozzarella

Panini with Shrimp, Avocado & Mozzarella

There’s no trick to making grilled sandwiches taste great. Load a pile of meat and cheese between two slices of mayo-slathered bread, then grill both sides in copious amounts of butter until the cheese has melted and the bread is crispy gold. The grease-soaked bread is as close as you can get to eating butter directly from the package — delish!

But my good doctor, who advises me on tips for keeping my cholesterol level in check, refuses to endorse this foolproof method for yummy sandwich preparations. I indulge (in moderation) when buttery cravings persist, but for everyday sandwich making, I stick to his advice. Indeed, there are plenty of alternatives to making a great grilled sandwich of which he’d approve that inspired the following recipe.

First, I’ll disclose that this is not a low-fat “diet” recipe… no no no no no. That four-letter word isn’t a part of my vocabulary. There are fats that are important to incorporate in a healthy diet, and others fats healthy bodies are best served by avoiding. I’ve learned to distinguish the good fats from those on my doctor’s “least wanted” list and incorporated the good ones into the following sandwich.

According to a plethora of medical information, including the Mayo Clinic website, olive oil and avocado — albeit higher-fat items — are rich in monounsaturated fat, which is a healthy fat when used in moderation. Accordingly, I used olive oil and avocado in the following creation, which lends that buttery mouth feel I do so appreciate in a well-constructed sandwich.

Next comes the cheese, which often gets a bad rap in health circles, but is the one item I’m loath to dismiss from a grilled sandwich; melted cheese is the best part. After checking the nutrition labels on cheese packages, I decided to use mozzarella, which is lower in fat than its peers. Goat cheese and feta would have been other good choices, but the way mozzarella melts to creamy stringiness is bliss.

Adding shrimp is a no-brainer; everyone loves them, and they’re high in protein, minerals and other good stuff. Low in fat, shrimp also lend a satisfactory chew. I’m aware they’re high in cholesterol but, hey, I cut those babies in half. Perhaps you’re thinking I’m pushing the envelope, but I’ve been known to make pork belly sandwiches. Relative to that, I’m still within my definition of healthy sandwich guidelines.

I’m christening this masterpiece “panini” because it’s grilled on a cooker that has top and bottom plates; it doesn’t have to be “flipped” in the pan like a classic grilled cheese. But go ahead, make the following recipe with whatever device you have on hand — be it griddle, skillet or grill pan — taking care not to let the sandwich dismantle when you make the “flip”. I promise not to call the Panini Police.

There is conflicting data on what constitutes the bread used for panini. The word panino is Italian for “small bread roll”; its plural form is panini. Wikipedia writes that in Italy, “Panino” is the name of a sandwich made from bread other than sliced bread, which conflicts with many panini recipes you’d find on-line that call for using sliced white bread.

In fact, the most elegant photographs I’ve seen of panini — and certainly panini you’d purchase from cafes such as Panera — seem to be made on white bread, the grill marks branded into the bread. Flavorful breads, such as ciabatta and hard rolls, hold up well but are harder to eat; ingredients other than meat and cheese tend to splooge out of the chewy crust. I used a ciabatta in the following recipe, but slices of dense sour dough would be an excellent choice, minimizing the splooge factor.

Admittedly, I took creative license calling this “healthy” by adding cheese, shrimp and a bread other than 6-grams-of-fiber whole grain, but I’ll wager it’s body friendlier than what you’d receive ordering outside your home.

Recipe: Panini with Shrimp, Avocado & Mozzarella


  • 2-3 small ripe avocados, pitted, flesh removed, mashed a bit with a fork
  • 1 Roma tomato, seeds removed and diced
  • 1 teaspoon plus 1 tablespoon fresh squeezed lemon juice
  • Scant teaspoon minced garlic
  • Red pepper flakes
  • 6 slices of dense bread, 3 rolls or 1 (12-inch) ciabatta loaf, sliced through the center then into 3 sandwich portions
  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • 6 slices mozzarella, cut to fit bread
  • 6 extra-large shrimp, halved lengthwise
  • 9-12 thin asparagus spears, blanched in salted water


  1. Combine mashed avocado, tomato, 1 teaspoon lemon juice and garlic. Season to taste with kosher salt and red pepper flakes. (You’ll need about 1 1/2 cups total.)
  2. Place bread (cut side down, crust side up, if using rolls or crusty bread) on work surface and brush with oil. Turn bread over and place half of cheese on half of bread. Spread avocado mixture over cheese, leaving 1/2 inch clearance on exterior sides.
  3. Drizzle remaining tablespoon of lemon juice over shrimp and asparagus spears; arrange shrimp over avocado mixture and top with asparagus. Top with another slice of cheese and remaining bread.
  4. Meanwhile, if using a panini maker or sandwich press, preheat according to manufacturer’s instructions. Grill over medium to medium-high heat until cheese is melted and bread is crisp.

Number of servings (yield): 3 panini

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