My most successful recipe…so far

Eley PanEney

panini – Italian for sandwich

The short story:

meatball panini with mozzarella, marinara, & aioli

The dissertation:

For me, it starts with your bread.  I have gone as far as to even specifically pick out hoagie buns when I knew I would be hitting some panini in the near future (whole wheat adds an excellent sweetness to this dish and your going to prefer a certain dryness to the bread so I personally like it here and we usually have some around – rarely will I buy fancy bread unless we’re expecting to get our feast on). But of course, the obvious choice is sour dough or you can go with a stale-ish french bread, et cetera.  Think long.  You want your panini to have some guts so you need room for ’em.  What you have on hand will be fine until your love affair with this dish begins…then you’ll crave the upgrade.

Start by letting your pan heat through on medium-low.  I have found that a setting of about 3-4 on our particular cook-top (a rather cheap electric model affectionately known as Medusa) is quite sufficient for most everyday applications as long as you give your pan time to heat up.  There are a lot of really good reasons for preheating your pans, but I am not going to list them out.  Alton Brown does a wonderful job of explaining all the science of the benefits of preheating, but for us I’ll just say please make it a habit of letting your pan heat up before you add the goods for no better reason than that satisfaction peculiar to cooking I call the sizzle.  For me, this is one of everyday life’s more exhilarating moments. Its like the the starting pistol at a race or that feeling you get when the lights are dimmed at the theatre. Remember, föde is about feeding all your senses.

Panini, or panino, are most traditionally done as a fancy schmancy grilled cheese using: sour dough, goat cheese, tomato, pancetta (Italian smoked or cured bacon) and a fresh leafy-green herb or lettuce that has been pressed resulting in those classic panini grill-marksMy most successful recipe is for a meatball panini that was born out of the frugality of using leftovers.

Where were we? Oh yes, letting that pan heat up.  I would be fine if I got a press as a gift one day, but until that day I use Medusa, a ridged griddle, and a press (anything with a little weight and a flat bottom is fine – I generally reach for the cast iron b/c its indestructible).

The first time I had a successful attempt at this recipe was using some oven-baked, homemade, venison meatballs (donated deer meat mixed with bacon, deer sausage, and ground turkey that I had on hand).  I have since appeased the desire to make my own meatballs for a long while and currently endorse the use of frozen meatballs – after all, this is a sandwich.  I like to cut the meatballs in half for two reasons: a) we’re about to mash the sass out of them when pressed and b) they’ll heat through quicker – simple.  Halve and place face down on you already hot griddler so that they’re getting in the mood whilst the bread is being prepped.

 Step one in bread prep:  If not pre-sliced, I cut the bread so that the bottom piece is thin.  Then, I use my diggits to hollow the soft interior out of the top slice – apparently Rodney Dangerfield wasn’t a complete idiot.  Keeping things thin allows the press-grilling process to do something wonderful to the bread and leaves room for more good schtuff inside.  I use real butter and plenty of it.  After all, I’m not eating panini every day.  When I remember, I try not to go into full grilled-cheese assembly line mode on the panini prep.  I like to start by just buttering the bottom slice that will hit the griddle first.  Again, I’m a simple guy –  I don’t butter both sides yet so that the top of my lovingly assembled sandwich doesn’t stick to the bottom of my skillet and get butter all over the place. At the risk of getting a little too fancy, I ‘ll add that I also start by turning on my broiler.  The broiler is an awesomely underutilized kitchen tool.  It is basically an upside-down grill.  I normally set it on high and I have a rack that stays permanently located on the highest bracket about 3-4 inches below the broiler.  I also commonly keep the door cracked (especially with this type of application) because its still plenty hot enough to get the job done and I want to make sure I don’t burn the bread.  My prep for the top slice is to sprinkle on some mozzeralla and pop it under the broiler for 1-2 minutes (do not walk away from the broiler or you will burn your bread).   There is yet again a simple reason for this: a) the melty heat does something wonderful to the cheese and b) I won’t make a mess when I flip the sandwich onto the griddle from my cutting board –  so that I don’t get butter on my board…I am trying to minimize cleanup.

At this point we’ve got bread ready for loading and grilling.  I schmear some of my man aioli on the bottom slice and some marinara one the top.  Spread you balls on the marinara-slathered top slice then put complete your upside-down assembly. 

We’re grilling.  Butter side down then give it a mash.  Now, I have been doing grilled cheese for 20-years (am I old enough to say stuff like that) and this is a good example of where your audio sensory devices come into crucial play.  Of course, you can always peek.  But, as you get to know your own setup, you’ll familiarize yourself with the what Madame Lydia calls the sounds of the pan.  Generally, once the moisture in the butter stops sizzling, its time to flip.  I am also beginning to realize that, with experience, you develop this internal cook’s clock.  This bio-timer not only helps you tweek seasoning in recipes, but also remind you when it is time to drop what your doing and check the pan (or the broiler)…I don’t know, ask Micah the Girl or chef Caleb.  When you have achieved handsome grille markage on the bias, flip and repeat. Mash.

 Aaaaannnd…that’s it.  My most favorite sandwich. Enjoy with a hearty wine.

 But that’s not all folks…there is a good alternative that was dethroned by the meatballer.

Heat a small frying pan.  Add chopped bacon.  Add shredded, leftover cooked chicken.  Rewarm in bacon drippings.  Substitute for meatballs.  Hold the marinara and add lettuce.  This one pairs well with a cold one. Yum

without me its just some sandwich,



~ by Aaron W Eley on 3 April 2008.

One Response to “My most successful recipe…so far”

  1. Fabulous things can happen with a panini press, some nice brioche, and a jar of nutella.

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