Sunday, June 6, 2010

Five Panini Party

I have neglected my posting duties as of late, but I have been cooking!  And eating, to be sure.  Last night our friend Mike came over and we had a bit of a panini extravaganza.  Sandwiches have long been one of my favorite meal-time choices, and as Greg points out, nary is there a sandwich which isn't better panini-ed.  We have a panini press, but one can avoid the extra gadget and simply purchase a grill and panini lid such as this one (and I imagine a less expensive version would heat and press just as well, too).  I find paninis to be a wonderful excuse to eat all your favorite breads and cheeses, so I encourage you to try one yourself.

Because paninis are best consumed hot off the grill, we had a multi-course dinner, eating each before trying the next recipe.  It turned out to be a very enjoyable way to mosey through a meal.  Crunchy, too.

Panini #1: Grilled Cheese gone Wild, a Tyler Florence recipe
This panini is made on country white bread, slathered in Dijon mustard, and topped with cheddar, granny smith apple, and bacon.  What's not to love, right?  It was as delicious as it sounds.  When assembling, a good panini rule of thumb is to layer cheese inside both pieces of bread--as in, it will be your bottom and top topping inside the bread.  This way the cheese acts as a sort of food glue, holding the whole mess in place.

Panini #2: Mushroom, Goat Cheese and Truffle Oil, another Tyler Florence recipe
Of the five paninis we tried, this one was the most labor intensive, but it was also Mike's favorite.  Possibly my favorite, too.  And, the truffle oil is a silly ingredient that even Tyler says you can do without.  However, my Secret Santa at work gave me a small bottle for Christmas this year and I've been eager to put it to use.  This was a great excuse to dig it out of the back of the cupboard.  Tyler suggests focaccia for this sandwich, but Greg thinks it's such a messy bread, so we went with ciabatta.  You cook the mushrooms with garlic and thyme, chop up the whole mixture and crumble in the goat cheese.  This makes a tapenade-like spread that you generously scoop onto the bread.  Top with fresh arugula and then: panini!  The arugula wilts, the cheese melts, the bread's divine.  Another panini tip: push down with the lid to flatten the sandwich as it begins to cook.  Then, leave it there to cook for 2-4 minutes, depending on the bread type, until golden, melty and crunchy.

Panini #3: Croissant, Salami, and Smoked Gouda, a Giada De Laurentiis recipe
Okay, by this point in the many-course meal, I was a little full.  I considered foregoing this last savory panini, but then I remembered the croissants.  Buttery, flaky, croissants.  The grease spots were already seeping through the bag where the croissants were laying in wait.  I couldn't ignore them, or forsake them.  So, for the good of humans and croissants everywhere, I sacrificed, and carried on to the next panini.  Inside the croissants, you layer smoked gouda, shredded parmesan, sliced salami, and arugula.  I'm happy to report that I made the right choice, the moral choice, even: I continued feasting.

At this juncture in the evening it was time to drag ourselves out of the apartment.  It was time for beer.  If you ever find yourself in Park Slope, you should meander over to Beer Table.  I'll make a confession--I don't even really like beer.  But, I love this little place.  It's a cozy joint with four longish tables where patrons sit side by side, European style.  The owner is usually there and he waits on all the guests, discussing the beers, explaining where each is from, what they taste like.  In fact, the menu (which changes daily) is a literary experience itself.  Each beer is listed, followed by a string of five or six adjectives explaining its taste and personality.  Mike's beer was tart and arresting, mine was honey and creamy, and Greg's was fruit loops.  The ambiance is fabulous and the whole experience is quite the culinary event.

Panini #4: Chocolate, Brie, and Basil, another Giada De Laurentiis recipe
After beer we admitted we were full, and so decided to delay the final paninis until this morning.  I mean, what could be better than panini breakfast?

This sandwich is made on sourdough, and I would consider it a dessert (or breakfast!) panini.  Simply layer slices of brie, a sprinkling of chocolate chips, and chopped basil for this delectable treat.

Panini #5: PB & J with Banana, a Greg and Sarah creation
So after the first breakfast panini, there were still a few cute slices of sourdough left over.  And the banana I was already half way through seemed to want a piece of the action.  I hate to say it, but I think I preferred the peanut butter, jelly and banana to the brie and chocolate panini.  Took me back to childhood.
Moral of the panini story?  Make your favorite sandwich and grill it up.  Greg loves a good curry chicken panini.  I like anything, really.  You can't go wrong.