Grilled Caprese Panini takes a simple grilled cheese sandwich to a whole new level! Made with ripe tomatoes, creamy mozzarella, and herbaceous fresh basil, it’s a little bit like a classic caprese salad in handheld form!
This grilled caprese panini is one of my go-to meals for summer days because it's so simple and fresh, and the ingredients are plentiful and in season. Right now a large bunch of fresh basil is super cheap at the farmer's market and they’re practically giving away the tomatoes, too!
But these toasty Italian-inspired sandwiches are delicious any time of year, especially if you can get nice hothouse tomatoes. When fresh basil is ridiculously expensive, you can always just spread some store-bought or homemade pesto on the bread instead for a delicious variation on the original.
Unlike a grilled cheese sandwich, which is buttered, this grilled caprese panini gets brushed with olive oil for a crispy exterior. And even though it's not traditional, I also like to drizzle balsamic vinegar over the tomatoes & mozzarella before grilling the panini. It plays up the natural sweetness of the tomatoes and makes this taste even more like a caprese salad!
Do You Need a Panini Press to Make Panini?
The short answer: no! You don’t need a panini press to make panini.
While it's super helpful to have a panini press like this one to make grilled caprese panini, you can get pretty much the same effect using a grill pan.
Just heat your grill pan well, then place the panini in the pan and press down on the top of the sandwich for 20 seconds with another heavy pot or pan. Leave the pot or pan sitting on top of the sandwich while the bottom cooks and gets grill marks, then flip and repeat on the other side.
And if you don't have a grill pan either, you can always prepare this like a traditional grilled cheese. Just be careful when flipping the sandwich to grill the second side—you don’t want the tomatoes and basil falling out!
What You’ll Need
Scroll down to the recipe card below this post for ingredient quantities and full instructions.
- Ciabatta roll or sourdough bread
- Fresh mozzarella
- Tomato – This is a great way to use those gorgeous heirloom tomatoes they sell at the farmer’s market!
- Basil leaves
- Olive oil
- Balsamic vinegar – A thick, syrupy aged balsamic vinegar is best here.
- Salt and pepper
Why Is Fresh Mozzarella So Different?
This recipe calls for fresh mozzarella, not the shredded kind that comes in a bag that you put on lasagna or pizza. The two are so different, comparing them is a little bit like apples and oranges!
Fresh mozzarella is more expensive than the shredded kind, but it's so worth it in terms of flavor and texture. It’s formed into balls (although sometimes it's also sold as logs) and packed in brine. The flavor is mild and milky, but it's super creamy and has an irresistibly stretchy texture when melted in this panini.
You can find fresh mozzarella at most grocery stores these days. Sometimes it’s near the shredded cheeses, other times it’s with the specialty cheeses, and you might even find it in a self-serve bar type of situation with olives, pickles, and such.
How to Make Grilled Caprese Panini
When it comes to effortless summer meals, you really can’t beat this grilled caprese panini. Here’s what you’ll need to do.
Prepare the bread. Slice the ciabatta roll in half. Brush the outside of the bottom with olive oil, then place it on a hot panini press or grill pan.
Assemble. Lay the mozzarella on top of the bread, followed by the tomato and basil leaves. Drizzle with balsamic vinegar and season with salt and pepper, then place the top half of the roll over the fillings. Brush the top of the sandwich with olive oil.
Grill. Close the panini press lid. Grill until the panini is golden brown and toasty, and the mozzarella starts to get a little melted around the edges.
Tips for Success
Here are some simple tips to help you make the perfect grilled caprese paninis:
- Using a grill pan. If you don’t have a panini press, you can set a grill pan over medium heat and assemble the sandwich without brushing the top with oil. Place a heavy pot or pan on top as described above. Once the bottom is browned and crispy, brush the top with oil, then flip the sandwich and cook the other side.
- Choose a sturdy bread. If you opt not to use ciabatta or sourdough, you’ll want to make sure that you use a substantive bread. Something soft like brioche won’t stand up the the fillings in this sandwich and it will end up as a soggy mess!
- Don’t skip the salt and pepper. Freshly cracked black pepper really amps up the flavor in this grilled caprese panini recipe.
To round this out and make it a meal, serve your grilled caprese panini with:
- Carrot sticks, celery sticks, or fresh fruit for a light summer meal
- An Italian-inspired salad or even Italian pasta salad
- Homemade tomato basil soup
- A handful of potato chips for the ultimate low-effort dinner
How to Store and Reheat Leftovers
If you have leftovers, store them wrapped tightly or in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 3 days. You can eat the leftovers cold, or reheat them in your panini press or a 300ºF oven.
Can This Recipe Be Frozen?
With the fresh tomatoes and basil, this isn’t a recipe that’s great for freezing. If you’re looking for a freezer-friendly dinner with Italian flair, try my Pizza Casserole.
More Italian Recipes You'll Love
- The Best Spaghetti and Meatballs Recipe
- Easy Tomato Basil Bruschetta
- Best Bolognese Sauce Recipe
- Classic Homemade Marinara Sauce
- Olive Garden Salad Dressing Recipe
- Grilled Garlic Bread
- Zuppa Toscana (Crock Pot or Stove Top)
- Roasted Red Pepper Sauce
Did you make this recipe?
Let me know what you thought with a comment and rating below. You can also take a picture and tag me on Instagram @houseofnasheats or share it on the Pinterest pin so I can see.
Grilled Caprese Panini
- 1 ciabatta roll or 2 slices sourdough bread
- 2 slices fresh mozzarella
- 2-3 tomato slices
- Handful of fresh basil leaves
- 2 Tablespoons olive oil
- 1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- Slice the ciabatta roll in half. Brush the outside of the bottom roll with 1 tablespoon of olive oil and place on a hot panini press or grill pan.
- Layer the sliced fresh mozzarella, sliced tomato, and basil leaves, then drizzle with balsamic vinegar and season with just a little salt & pepper, to taste.
- Brush the top of the ciabatta roll with remaining olive oil and place over sandwich, then lower the panini press lid or place a heavy pan on top of the sandwich in the grill pan over medium heat and press down for 20 seconds, then leave the pan sitting on the sandwich as it cooks. You will need to flip the sandwich if using the grill press once the bottom is toasted in order to grill the other side. Grill until toasted to a golden brown and the mozzarella starts to get a little melted around the sides but is not melted completely through.
This post was originally published in July, 2017. The photos and content were updated in June, 2022.