Grilled Zucchini and Gruyere Panini with Smoky Pesto

This grilled zucchini and gruyere panini with smoky pesto makes an ultra satisfying vegetarian sandwich! 

Grilled Zucchini Panini with Gruyere and Smoky Pesto
Grilled Zucchini Panini with Gruyere and Smoky Pesto

When I was in high school, my friends and I used to sneak out at lunch and go to Bagel Bakery, a bagel and sandwich shop just down the road. My friends would usually order a plain bagel, since at the time, they were following 'the bagel diet.' Yes really. Even in the height of the low carb craze. In hindsight, that was probably the worst diet ever. Me, I always ordered a panini. At the time, it made me feel fancy and sophisticated next to my friends with their boring, plain bagel.

I still have a soft spot for paninis. It's probably the melty cheese. Actually, it's definitely the melty cheese. But I can't forget the crunchy, toasty, buttery bread, which I love almost as much.

Grilled Zucchini Panini with Smoky Pesto and Gruyere
Grilled Zucchini Panini with Smoky Pesto and Gruyere

Bread is one of the most maligned foods. In a way, it's with good reason. Bread is the third greatest source of calories in the average American diet. A bagel for breakfast, sandwich for lunch, and biscuit from a can at dinner - all that white flour adds up!

Still, bread tastes delicious, and I'm in favor of eating all things delicious. Although there's always a place for a nice crusty baguette or a garlic studded ciabatta, for everyday use, look for more nutritious options. Unfortunately, you've got to do a bit of digging. Front-of-package labeling for bread is some of the most confusing and misleading out there so check out the ingredients list instead. If you know what to look for, it will save you a lot of time and trouble.

100% Whole Grain

Words like multigrain, wheat, whole grain or white wheat don't mean a thing. More often than not, these breads are made with a blend of refined and whole grain flour, or are simply white bread with a little a little caramel coloring to make it look brown. If you're not sure, check the ingredients list. All flours listed should have the word whole in front of it.

Added Sugar

Even if it is 100% whole grain, you're not out of the woods. Many companies add sugar to make their whole grain breads more palatable to our sweet-loving taste buds. If you see a gram or maybe two on the label, I wouldn't worry. More than that and you may be getting into dessert range. Take Sara Lee 100% whole grain bread with it's 3 grams of sugar per slice. Doesn't sound like a lot, but if you have a sandwich with two slices, that's 6 grams or 1 1/2 teaspoons, about as much as you'll find in a couple of Chips Ahoy chocolate chip cookies.

Artificial Sweeteners

Not a place you would expect to find artificial sweeteners, but surprisingly, many companies use artificial sweeteners in their bread, especially sucrulose. Personally, I avoid artificial sweeteners, given the research linking it to weight gain, insulin response, and it may even increased perceptions of hunger.

Dough Conditioners

I avoid dough conditioners, such as azodicarbonamide, monoglycerides, diglycerides,  potassium bromate and DATEM. A lot of the online information about these ingredients is a bit alarmist and not exactly scientifically founded. Still, I take special care to avoid these ingredients as they are made from manipulated fats. Given the history of trans fats and how long it took laboratory research to reach the public, I'm a bit weary. Rather be safe than sorry!

Caramel Coloring

Sounds pretty innocuous, but most caramel coloring used in the food industry isn't made by burning sugar. It's created by reacting sugars with ammonia and other compounds under high pressure, a process that creates known carcinogens, 2-methylimidazole and 4 methylimidazole.

Sounds pretty scary, but I promise, there's some good stuff out there!

Sprouted grain breads are my absolute favorite. The grains are soaked in water until they start to sprout, then ground into flour and baked into bread. Grains that have been sprouted contain more vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Also, the sprouting process decreases phytic acid, a compound found in grains (nuts and beans too) that decreases vitamin and mineral absorption. My favorite is the classic Ezekiel 4:9 bread by Food for Life and Trader Joes version, which is cheaper (yay!). Speaking of which, Trader Joe's is where I purchase most of my bread, as it's inexpensive, minimally processed and actually 100% whole grain. Their 100% whole grain sourdough is pretty fantastic! Being part German, I also have a weak spot for the real, dark German rye breads, which are almost always 100% whole grain (check the ingredients list first though to be sure!).

Grilled Zucchini and Gruyere Panini with Smoky Pesto

Makes 4

Adapted from Food & WIne Magazine


  • 2 medium zucchini, sliced into 1/4-inch thick lengthwise slices
  • 1/3 cup pesto
  • 1 teaspoon hot smoked paprika
  • 4 slices gruyere cheese
  • 8 slices sprouted whole grain bread


  1. Heat a grill to medium-high heat. Spray zucchini with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Grill until charred on both sides, about 2 minutes per side.
  2. Mix pesto and smoked paprika.
  3. Divide pesto between four bread slices. Top with grilled zucchini and gruyere then other slice of bread.
  4. Place paninis back on the grill or in a cast iron skillet on medium-high heat. Press down with a spatula to flatten. Grill about 2 minutes per side until crispy and cheese is melted.