Itsy-Bitsy, Teeny-Weeny, Yellow Polka-Dot Panini
Hot damn, I love grilled sandwiches! Stringy, gooey cheese and warm, toasty bread -- how can you go wrong? The Italians perfected this treat with the panini, a pressed grilled sandwich usually stuffed with bold, flavourful fillings. Wanting to learn more about this delicious cheese delivery system, I recently picked up Simple Italian Sandwiches by Jennifer Denton, Jason Denton, and Kathryn Kellinger. I'm glad I did -- This cookbook is a lot of fun to read, with a focus on panini, bruschetta, and tramezzini recipes, with a few frittatas and salads thrown in for good measure.
I don't have a panini press, but I have found that my Foreman Grill works just as well. The great thing about paninis is that you don't need to use any oil or butter on the bread -- the heat of the grill toasts it up nicely without any additional fat. So, even though you're gorging on cheese, you can feel pretty good about it.
One recipe from Simple Italian Sandwiches especially appealed to me: an artichoke, fennel, and fontina panini. The tangy marinated artichoke hearts marry beautifully with the subtle anise flavour of the fennel, and the rich fontina cheese mellows everything out. Try this sophisticated grilled-cheese with a balsamic-dressed green salad for a simple, amazing dinner.
1 bulb fennel, sliced (tops removed)
3 tbsp olive oil
2 ciabatta rolls
1 cup sliced marinated artichoke hearts
4 ounces Italian Fontina, sliced
salt & pepper
1. Braise the fennel: preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Toss the sliced fennel in a baking dish with the olive oil, and bake for 1 hour, stirring once after 30 minutes. The fennel should be soft and translucent when finished. Cool to room temperature before using.
2. Preheat your panini or Foreman grill. Slice the domed tops off of the ciabata rolls so that the roll is about 1 inch thick. Then, split the rolls horizontally.
3. Spread artichoke hearts over the bottom halves of the ciabatta, and top with 3 tablespoons of the fennel each. Cover the fennel with an even layer of fontina and season with salt and pepper. Place the top halves of the ciabatta rolls over the cheese.
4. Grill the sandwiches for 4 minutes, until the bread is golden brown and the cheese is melted. Let sandwiches sit for one minute before slicing and serving.