After dining twice at ‘ino in New York and purchasing their cookbook, Simple Italian Sandwiches: Recipes from America’s Favorite Panini Bar, you knew that I would begin preparing as many panini as were necessary for me to feel confident in my understanding of them, right?
The first step was to make some of the condimenti. Perusing the cookbook, I realized that one thing that had kept my pre-New York panini from really popping was the lack of a flavorful condiment. Generally, a panini is made with a meat ingredient, cheese, and an acidic or sour ingredient. Most of the time I was using mustard but that didn’t have enough impact.
I started with four main ingredients: garlic, red onions, red peppers, and a kind of chile that was the closest thing to a cherry pepper I could find.
Several of the red onions were cut into sixteenths and then tossed in olive oil and balsamic vinegar.
After about two hours at a low temperature with frequent stirring, we had a nice mass of caramelized sweet onions. I also made some balsamic roasted garlic bulbs.
Using some of the sweet onions as a base, I chopped some of the hot chilies (mostly deseeded to keep the heat at a tolerable level) and a little bell pepper to create a relish. Normally this is made with cherry peppers, which are mildly spicy round peppers.
Finally, I made peperonata, red peppers cut into one-inch dice and tossed with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, thyme and chile flakes, roasted for thirty minutes under tender.
The “secret” to ‘ino’s panini is that instead of using loaf bread they use ciabatta. Slicing the top off to make it roughly flat, they then slice the ciabatta in half length-wise. This way each bite has some of the nice crust on the bottom.
I made a couple of loaves of ciabatti and while the flavor was good, the rise wasn’t as high as I thought necessary and the crumb was very wide with large air bubbles. This made for a tough sandwich to grill as the fillings just worked their way through the bubbles and out the crust.
Italian Coppa, sweet onions, roasted garlic, arugula, and gouda cheese.
Homemade pesto, peperonata, and fresh mozzarella cheese.
The results: tasty, but a bit flat. The pesto nearly soaked through the bread.
Similar to the first sandwich – except with pickled red onions instead of roasted sweet onions. More cheese this time as the gouda seems to evaporate rather than melt.
Pesto, peperonata, mozzarella cheese (this time not fresh but lightly aged), with some chile relish for a change.
The results were better with this second batch – my ciabatti were higher thanks to folding over the dough several times during the rise. In this picture, you can see how the rolls have had their tops sliced. Still, though, the panini end up too flat because the bread just isn’t high enough.
This time a trio of sandwiches using a baguette I baked. Since I couldn’t get the ciabatta as high as I wanted, I decided to try an alternate style of bread.
Based on a suggestion from Sheldon (with some modification), here is rocket (arugula), camembert cheese, and the chile relish.
A scrambled egg with roasted sweet onions and gouda.
A different and prettier arrangement of peperonata, mozzarella cheese, and basil pesto.
This trio turned out very nice (accompanied with some of the balsamic roasted garlic) with bread that remained substantial after grilling. The only challenge was that since the diameter of the loaf is pretty small, there was a lot of crust to deal with. I love crusty bread but it was sometimes a bit tough on the roof of the mouth to chew!
One thing I’ve decided is that the regular loaf bread like a boule is the most suitable for panini, despite what ‘ino does. If/when I can make a ciabatti that has enough height or can find a place to buy decent ciabatta, then I’ll switch back to it. In the meantime, I’ll return to my pale ale boule recipe.
Another pleasant discovery – you can use the condimenti for other purposes.
Omelet with lightly pan fried zucchini, mozzarella cheese, and roasted sweet onions.
I hope you enjoyed!