Tale of Two Tasties: Grilled Panini

I fell in love with the panini in 1983.  I was a young man living in Italy.  I lived in a somewhat small town mapped with cobblestone streets and thoroughfares.  One of the thoroughfares, meant only for pedestrians, ran through the middle of town and separated two long rows of buildings with apartments above and boutiques, bars and cafes below.

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Nearly every bar/cafe opened fully on the front and the aroma from inside drifted out.  If you weren’t lured in by the smell of a freshly steamed cappucino you were bound to be captured by a ‘hot off the grill’ panini.  My favorite was from Smeraldo’s.  It was tomato, basil, and mozzarella - grilled and melty.  Of course, there were a few other ingredients, as well.  I have done my best to replicate the flavor for today’s recipe.  It may not be exactly the same, but it is delicious nonetheless.

savour... Ciao time!

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Grilled Paninis

Years after returning stateside, I was introduced to the Cuban sandwich.  Just when you think you’ve tasted every known combination, someone throws a curveball at you.  This sandwich is simply delicious.  The pulled pork and ham would be good on their own, but being paired with pickle and mustard adds something really special to the flavor.  This is sure to be a crowd pleaser.

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Before you start:

I chose to use sundried tomatoes for the intense flavor, but more to reduce the amount of moisture released in the grilling process.  You could replace them with fresh tomato... just pat them off a little beforehand and be prepared for a potentially drippy experience.

Many people butter the bread and/or grill. That is fine to do, but I opted for a light spray of olive oil cooking spray instead.

Fresh mozzarella is the only way to go.  Don’t try to substitute.

For both sandwiches there is enough flavor (and fat) in the ingredients.  There should be little need to add salt or dressing.

Panini Smeraldo

The ingredients:

Ciabatta or other roll if you prefer

fresh mozzarella

6 medium sundried tomato slices

6-8 large basil leaves

3-4 strips of roasted bell pepper (canned in olive oil)

heaping tablespoon of olive tapenade

olive oil cooking spray

The method:

  1. Turn on the panini grill.
  2. Assemble in the following order: bread bottom, tomatoes, mozzarella, basil leaves, roasted peppers, bread top with tapenade already spread on it.
  3. Very lightly spray the grill surfaces and the outside of the sandwich.
  4. Place on the grill and close the lid (pressing should not be necessary).
  5. Follow the instructions for your panini grill.  Panini is ready when there are good grill marks and the contents of the sandwich are hot and cheese somewhat melted.

The Cuban

The ingredients:

Ciabatta roll

1/3 cup pulled pork

2 thin slices of smoked or baked ham (not honey)

2 dill pickle planks

provolone cheese

yellow mustard

olive oil cooking spray

The method:

  1. Turn on the grill.
  2. Assemble in the following order: bread bottom, pulled pork, ham slices, pickle planks, provolone, bread top with mustard already applied.
  3. Very lightly spray the grill surfaces and the outside of the sandwich.
  4. Place panini on the grill and close the lid (pressing should not be necessary).
  5. Follow the instructions for your panini grill. Panini is ready when there are good grill marks and the contents of the sandwich are hot and cheese somewhat melted.