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Make Your Own Panini - Just Like you Found in Italy...
on April 15, 2007
Oh, if you could smell the heavenly scents emanating from my kitchen right now, you would know why I'm so enamored of this latest addition to my cookbook collection !
I first fell in love with panini during an escorted tour to Italy two years ago that involved several hours in the bus on alternate days. The highlight of the bus trip was the mid-day stop at the ubiquitous roadside restaurant chain known as AutoGrill - far more varied and satisfying than the typical fast food chain restaurant choices that you find on the interstate in the U.S. Every AutoGrill featured fresh-made panini, assembled with just a few fresh and simple ingredients, quickly melded together by a press in the hot grill. I tried unsuccessfully to find comparable sandwiches back in California. Many delis offered sandwiches billed as "panini" but they lacked the authentic flavors and construction of their Italian namesakes.
I received a panini grill as a Christmas gift so that I could try my hand at making panini at home, but was disappointed with the meager cook book that accompanied the grill. I researched specialty cookbooks dedicated to the subject of panini and discovered that "Simple Italian Sandwiches" fit the bill exactly. I was delighted to read in the foreword by Mario Batali that his favorite place to eat in Italy is also the AutoGrill which he called "temples of gastronomic magnificence".
The authors, Jennifer and Jason Denton, also fell in love with the little toasted sandwiches during a trip to Italy and established a tiny Greenwich Village restaurant called `ino that featured the foods they had come to love in Italy. Their recipes offer "maximum flavor and minimal cooking" allowing the cooks to spend more time with their guests.
Before I delved into the panini recipes in "Simple Italian Sandwiches" I purchased warm, soft ciabatta rolls, fresh mozzarella, a wonderfully aromatic wedge of Parmigiano Reggiano, Asiago, Prosciutto di Parma, campari tomatoes on the vine and extra virgin olive oil. You're probably thinking by now that I spent a fortune and traveled far and wide to collect these essential panini ingredients. To the contrary, it required just one trip to the local Costco and cost far less than if I had gone to the expensive Italian deli nearby. As suggested by the authors, I shopped for top quality ingredients and prepared the condimenti myself from scratch. These included fresh basil pesto, balsamic roasted garlic, oven roasted tomatoes and peperonata - diced bell peppers slowly roasted with balsamic vinegar and herbs in olive oil.
The cookbook includes 6 sections:
Basics - the list of suggested top-quality ingredients - breads, meats, cheeses.
Condimenti - including pesto, mayonnaise, roasted garlic, oven-roasted tomatoes, etc.
Panini - 19 recipes
Bruschetta - 15 recipes
Tramezzini - 9 recipes
Antipasti, Merende and Insalate - interesting accompaniments to the sandwiches
I had been expecting a cookbook entirely consisting of panini recipes, but the bruschetta and tramezzini recipes are an enjoyable bonus. I hadn't thought of bruschetta as a type of sandwich, but it's essentially an open face sandwich with delicious fresh ingredients piled on a small slice of crusty, toasted bread. Tramezzini, which means "little something in the middle", are crustless, petite sandwiches made on moist, fresh white bread. The fillings are simple and flavorful, just as with the panini, but the sandwiches are not toasted.
The recipes are very simply presented, one per page, with a nice, crisp typeface and plenty of whitespace to allow you to make your "cook's notes". A column of ingredients and quantities is printed on the left side of the page (reinforcing how few ingredients there are in most of the recipes), with the instructions in step by step form on the right side. Full color photos (46 in total) accompany many of the recipes, helping you to select the recipe that appeals to your appetite and available ingredients and offering attractive serving suggestions.
Panini (and the other Italian sandwiches featured in the book) are an excellent addition to the repertoire of a busy cook, perfect for families on the run and working cooks with little time and energy for cooking after a long day at work. And "Simple Italian Sandwiches" provides a sufficient variety of enticing and practical recipes to ensure that your panini grill earns a permanent spot among the most useful appliances in your kitchen.