comfort foods for generations

I don’t have to tell you how much I enjoy panini (Italian “little breads” - pressed sandwiches). A wonderful blend of sauteed vegetables or deli meats on country bread!

Also, I enjoy the Cuban sandwich and my Don Corleone as well. These are something we have enjoyed for generations in my family.

Since Italian panini (panino is the singular) vary from region to region, I feel quite lucky that my family has roots in the different regions of Italy. We have all enjoyed these crusty-on-the-outside and gooey-on-the-inside sandwiches which are made on breads, rolls or focaccia.

Tiny panini make great appetizers. As far as I’m concerned - panini are great anytime!

Although they do make panini presses (I use George Forman grill) you can still enjoy a proper panini using a skillet or ridged grill pan (for the grill marks!) for panini.

I have posted panini recipes in WHAT’S FOR DINNER, along with Don Corleone (posted in FAVORITES), and here are a few more ideas for you to enjoy along with tips for a perfect panini:

For breakfast, try a filling of ricotta cheese or cream cheese with jam or dried fruit.

For lunch/brunch, try ham, smoked Gouda and pear slices with honey mustard; prosciutto, mozarella, sliced tomatoes (drained on paper towels first) and fresh basil; portobello mushroom, red onion and zucchini marinated in vinaigrette, then grilled and layered with Feta and basil or turkey, with crisp bacon, bleu cheese and sun-dried tomatoes.

Use crusty, unsliced bread with a “neutral” flavor (wheat or white or sourdough) so that it won’t mask or change the flavors of your filling.

Limit your filling to 4 or 5 flavors and try to make at least one of them meat or cheese.

Try not to overfill your bread; the bread slices should almost “touch” at the edges.

After filling your sandwich, press it with the palm of our hand before placing on the grill so it doesn’t slide apart.

Toast over medium heat - you don’t want your bread to burn before your filling is heated through.

If using a pan or skillet, “weigh” down your sandwich using a cast iron pan (which you can cover with foil if you don’t want to wash and season again or, if you haven’t got a pan heavy enough, place a pan on top and add a heavy object to the pan on top. Some cooks have bricks that they cover with foil to use to weigh down foods for some recipes.

Eggplant-Mozzarella Panini

1 med. eggplant (aabout 1 lb.) quartered lengthwise and cut into 1/2-inch slices
Olive oil
Salt and pepper
1 T. fresh herbs of choice (parsley, rosemary, basil, oregano or half oregano and half rosemary)
8 slices country bread sliced 1/2-inch thick
8 thin slices prosciutto
8 thin slices tomato (ripe is good)
2 c. argula or other bittersweet greens
8 oz. thinly sliced mozzarella
Aged balsamic vinegar

Brush eggplant slices with oil and season with salt, pepper and herbs. Pan fry or grill 4 to 5 minutes; turn and cook second side 30 seconds.

Brush one side of bread slices with olive oil; place oiled-side down on work surface and assemble sandwiches, evenly dividing ingredients. Sprinkle with salt and pepper; drizzle with balsamic viinegar; top with remaining bread lsices, oiled side up.

Grill/press over medium heat until the outside is nice and crisp and the filling is hot. Cut in half to serve.

Don’t be afraid to use your imagination for these wonderful sandwiches! I have used rolls, focaccia, Italian bread, French bread, rye bread, and many regional breads. For fillings I have used any type of meats, deli meats, fish, cheeses, greens, tomatoes, onions, sun-dried tomatoes, roasted peppers, fresh pepper rings, Japanese eggplant, radishes, marinated artichokes, pineapple…the list is endless. For dressing/spreads I have used mayo, salad dressing, vinaigrette based dressings, anything goes!

You can use leftovers - including leftover salad or antipasto!