just me

Roasted Italian Panini

In Sandwiches on February 24, 2010 at 5:23 pm

An homage to the red, white, and green!

Okay, so it’s not technically a panini – it’s not pressed and grilled. But it is toasted! And besides, when I hear “Italian sandwich”, I think of a giant LaSpada sub, overstuffed with salami and provolone and dripping with oil and vinegar. This is not that. This sandwich is actually pretty common, but the twist here is that you roast your own peppers and tomatoes. Beats the pants off the store bought!

I’m actually frequently inspired to make this sandwich because I have had the best version of it in the world, and I am constantly attempting to reproduce that, to no avail. Let me set the scene:

Mid-afternoon on Italy’s Amalfi coast. September. The sun is shining, the sky is a magical shade of blue. You’ve been wandering up and down the (very hilly) streets of the tiny coastal villages, browsing shops and investigating cathedrals all day long. You’re hungry, your feet hurt, but you are so totally blissed out on the Italian sunshine (it really is different there) and scenery that the last thing you want to do is go back to the hotel. So you’re walking along the waterfront and you come to this little beach-shack type of building, with a wooden deck over the stones, extending out into the water. “Oh, how lovely,” you think. Then you realize it’s a restaurant, and you are the only customer. Sometimes it’s actually good to be the only one! You find a table, and relish the fact that you have the deck to yourself – very peaceful and quiet, except for the seagulls and the distant sounds of tourists on the beach.

You look to your right and see this –

You look to your left and see this –

You realize you are, in fact, here –

At this point, you are giddy with delight and hunger, and the waiter brings your sandwich. The ciabatta bread was baked on premises that morning by the waiter’s mom, who’s been doing this for thirty years. The prosciutto was farmed and cured by his cousin in a neighboring village, and sliced thin enough to read through. The pepper, tomato, and basil were grown at the family farm not a mile away, and brought in fresh a couple of hours ago. Then you take a bite and die of pleasure.

That is the experience I try to re-create every time I make this sandwich, and I fall short every single time. Of course, I only have supermarket ingredients to work with. And no Italian sunshine. Alas. But the sandwich is really freakin’ good anyway! Try it!

Roasted Italian Panini

Ingredients:

2 filone or ciabatta rolls

6 ounces fresh mozzarella

6 slices prosciutto (paper-thin)

2 red bell peppers

2 Roma tomatoes

1 cup (or so) fresh basil leaves

drizzle of olive oil

Directions:

This part can be done ahead of time – cut the peppers in half, and slice the tomatoes. Arrange them all on a foil-lined baking sheet – peppers cut-side down, and drizzle the tomatoes with the oil.  Roast at 350 for about an hour. Keep an eye on them – When done, the peppers should be blackened and wrinkly, and the tomatoes should look all dried out with blackened edges. Remove from oven and let cool. Once cool, the skin should peel right off the peppers.

Halve the rolls, and arrange the peppers on the bottom. Put as much as you like, but remember they provide much of the moisture to the sandwich, and the taste mellows after roasting. So don’t be afraid of the pepper.

Slice the mozzarella quite thick, and arrange on top of the pepper. I already know you’re going to sneak pieces of cheese while you’re making the sandwiches. No need to hide.

Next, arrange the prosciutto atop the cheese. Curl it artfully, and allow a bit to hang out the side so everyone can see how thin it’s sliced.

Now arrange the fresh basil leaves on top of the prosciutto. You can snip them if you like, but then it tends to fall out of the sandwich. I prefer them whole.

Now top with a few slices of roasted tomato and the top of the roll.

Toast at 425 for about 5 minutes, or just until roll is toasted and cheese begins to get soft. The basil will dry out and get dark, but don’t you worry – that will only improve the taste even further.

Transfer sandwiches from oven to plate to mouth. I know.

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