Friday, July 31, 2009

Get Your Panini On

A panini is a little slice of heaven.

Or as my niece Sophia says, “The best grilled cheese I’ve ever had.” She grooves on the basic American cheese panini. However, the world of panini is an open book when it comes to ingredients.

In the summer, we like to have tomato and mozzarella panini. The highlight of the sandwich is the amazing Jersey tomato, which tastes like sweet summer sunshine. Of course, fresh basil pesto and a thick slice of mozzarella make everything taste better in my opinion.

So, I guess you could say this sandwich is perfection.
If you've never had a panini, it's a thin sandwich that is pressed down and cooked. It's fabulous, and I highly recommend that you give a panini a whirl.

But first thing's first:

If you don’t know how to make pesto, here’s a how-to:

Basil Pesto

1 bunch of fresh basil
A couple cloves of garlic
A handful of grated parmesan or romano cheese
Olive oil
Salt and pepper

Put all the ingredients in your food processor and grind away until a bright green basily-garlicky paste has formed. You should scrape the sides at least once and blitz the processor again.

You’re probably thinking, “Where are the measurements, Susan.” There aren’t any. Pesto is one of those recipes where you just have to just feel it. You may want more garlic or more cheese or more pepper. It’s so based on your own taste. You dig?

You may also be scratching your head thinking, “Girlfriend, that ain’t pesto. Where are the pine nuts?”

Good catch.

There’s two reasons, actually, that pine nuts aren't part of my pesto program. First, this is a family pesto recipe. Mommom never used pine nuts, so Susan totally doesn’t use pine nuts. Second, pine nuts don’t make there way into my kitchen because I have a crazy, life-threatening food allergy to nuts. So, if you want to get your pine nut on, go for it! Make sure you toast them before you throw them in the processor.

Of course, you could cheat and just buy pesto. I’m not judging.

To make my panini, I use a grill pan and the old-fashioned le Creuset panini press, which requires a little muscle. Good thing I work out.

If you don’t have a panini press or one of the fancy schmancy bazillion dollar panini machine-like contraptions, you could just place a filled teapot on top of a basic pan to get the pressed down panini affect. But I really truly and honestly recommend the le Creuset press. It is made of awesome.

So here’s how you make the panini:

Tomato and Mozzarella Panini

1 loaf of crusty Italian bread, sliced
Jersey tomatoes, sliced
Fresh mozzarella, sliced
Olive oil

Spread a thin layer of pesto on one side of the sliced bread. Layer mozzarella and tomato. Place a slice of bread on top to make a sandwich.

With a pastry brush, brush olive oil on the top and bottom pieces of bread that make your sandwich.

Fire up the stove to heat your grill pan, or turn on your panini maker. I like to cook mine over medium heat. Place two sandwiches on the grill pan. Place your panini press on top of the sandwiches and press on down. You should hear an exciting sizzle. Grill for 4-6 minutes on each side.

If you’re making them for company, you can assemble the sandwiches ahead of time and cook right before serving.

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