I wasn’t kissing her, I was whispering in her mouth.
~Chico Marx

As a late teen first visiting Paris, I was struck (even smitten) by the provocative public displays of affection on the streets, in parks and cafés. Passionate and intimate — open mouthed, deep kisses, with cuddles and caresses. Face dwellers. Blissfully awesome came to mind then and now. In the puritanical States though, you are ridiculed, derided for such shameless ardor. Frowned upon here, public kissers are brusquely advised to “get a room.” I mean, God forbid you be so deeply enamored with each other that you really do not give a damn about those leering, envious “get a life” voyeurs. Just that kind of “refulgent” act that no doubt makes Sarah Palin feel “squirmish” (sp?). Maybe she should stick to more basic, monosyllabic words, like “dolt.”

Thankfully, face whiffing and canoodling in public venues have now become national pasttimes in Mexico. In 2009, nearly 40,000 people gathered at Zocalo Square in Mexico City to break the tally for the most people kissing at one moment. This Valentine’s Day simultaneous smooching was dubbed Besame Mucho or “Kiss Me A Lot”. The intense, overt sensuality of young and old has continued forward with lovers inveterately kissing and ardently embracing in and near squares and promenades in Mexico’s most populus city.

Ah, to create a culture of sweet, tender mercies with those ever expressive, soft yet hot kisses…panochitas.

While my preference would be fresh tomatoes or tomatillos or both, the earthy sundried ones are a luscious substitute in the off season. Then, fast forward to late summer and replace the sundried ones with home grown or farmers’ market beauties—even heirlooms. A third option is to boil about a half dozen fresh, husked and washed, medium tomatillos in salted water until soft, about 10 minutes. Drain well and zip in a blender or food processor.

GUACAMOLE & SUNDRIED TOMATOES

1/2 medium white onion, peeled and finely chopped
2 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
1 serrano chile, stemmed, seeded and finely chopped
1 jalapeño chile, stemmed, seeded and finely chopped
1/3 C sundried tomatoes, chopped
1/2 C loosely packed, chopped fresh cilantro leaves

4 medium large ripe avocados
Sea salt
Fresh lime juice

Queso fresco crumbled, for garnish
Cilantro leaves, for garnish
Radishes, halved and thinly sliced, for garnish

In a medium bowl, mix the onion, garlic and chiles with the sundried tomatoes and cilantro.

Close to when you are going to serve, halve the avocados lengthwise by cutting from stem to stern and back again, then twist the two halves apart. Dislodge the pit with the blade and scoop the avocado flesh into a bowl with a spoon. Roughly mash the avocados into a coarsely textured, thick mash. You probably want some chunk.

Taste and season with salt and lime juice to suit your personal preferences.

Cover with plastic wrap directly on the surface of the guacamole and refrigerate until ready to serve. Mound the guacamole in a serving dish, and serve with queso fresco, cilantro and radishes.

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A Return to Paninis

May 28, 2009

A touch of closure. This post is meant to partially deliver on an earlier promise from A Word About Paninis & Sandwiches that “recipes will follow on a subsequent entry.” Because many sandwiches, including paninis, are built in a rather similar fashion, these recipes are grouped in a communal manner. So, the common ingredients and basics are described first, followed by individual suggested fillings. But, the possibilities are nearly endless.

PANINIS

Ingredients:

Rustic bread, such as Ciabetta or baguette, sliced
Extra virgin olive oil
Imaginative “fillings” (see below)

Basics:

Brush the outside of the each piece of bread with olive oil. Fill with whatever combination or permutation soothes your soul—or simply build with your usual suspects. Again, when constructing paninis keep the quantities within reason. With paninis, you are not creating thick, fat sandwichs.

Heat the panini grill and press sandwiches until golden brown.

If you do not possess a panini grill, heat a ridged grill pan and place another surface, such as a small cutting board or another pan on top of the panini as they cook. Place a weight on the board or pan to press down the panini, causing those signature ridges and thinning the sandwiches overall. Turn and repeat. The panini should be cooked to golden brown with pronounced grill marks and the insides pressed narrowly with slightly oozing luscious cheese.

Fillings:

Thinly sliced, roasted pancetta, arugula and mozzarella
Coppa, pesto, and provolone
Sauteed mushrooms, arugula, caramelized red onions and fontina
Soppressata, basil pesto, and mozzarella
Tapenade, arugula and fontina
Portabello, goat cheese, spinach, and truffle oil
Serrano, arugula, caramelized red onions and manchego
Coppa, sundried tomatoes and taleggio
Proscuitto, spinach and gruyere
Finocchiona, pesto, fontina and truffle oil
Proscuitto, tomato pesto and camembert
Soppressata, tapenade and asiago
Serrano, watercress, and brie
Proscuitto, fig jam and fontina
Proscuitto, roasted peppers, caramelized onions and gruyere
Serrano, sundried tomatoes, spinach and mozzarella
Fresh tomatoes, basil and mozzarella

Buon appetito!

When you make his sandwiches, put a sexy or loving note in his lunch box.
~Anne Rice

PANINI

Maybe with the current economic woes and ever expanding disparities in this country’s burgeoning two class chasm, it may be timely to discuss just a simple two ply sandwich…or even a panino. They share an affinity.

Before my panini palaver persists, I have to preface. Even though they are often dissed as nothing more than a portable meal, making a really damn good sandwich or panini demands every bit the same nurturing that many other fine dishes deserve. Unless you fail to thoughtfully coddle them, sandwiches do not merit that “lunch bucket–not cuisine label,” something to be gobbled hurriedly at your desk or in the car. Au contraire! Rather, choice sandwiches are memorable art forms, both inside and out…

A panino is a sandwich made from a small loaf of rustic bread which is cut horizontally on the bias and customarily filled with cured meat, cheeses and greens. The literal translation of panino is “roll” or “stuffed bread,” with the plural being panini.

As with much of food history or gastronomic anthropology (as those phrases are loosely used here and elsewhere), the story of the sandwich is muddled. Such an abundance of cultural variance, criss crossing civilizations, endless definitional nuances, and often bewildering oral traditions…humanity’s comings and goings. The concept of bread as a focal point to the eating experience has been present for eons, so historical precision is elusive (see Pizza & Calzone Dough).

The first recorded sandwich was purportedly assembled by the scholarly rabbi, Hillel the Elder, circa 100 B.C. He introduced the Passover custom of sandwiching a mixture of chopped nuts, apples, spices, and wine between matzohs eaten with bitter herbs…a sandwich which is the fond of the Seder and bears his name.

During the Middle Ages, thick slices of coarse stale bread called trenchers were used instead of plates. Derived from the French verb trancher, which means “to slice or cut,” meats and other victuals were piled on these bread platters, eaten with fingers and sometimes with knives as forks had yet to find prevalence. The thick trenchers absorbed the juices, the greases, and rather primitive sauces, and afterwards the soaked breads were thrown to the dogs or offered as alms to the poor. With the advent of the fork, finger food became impolite which rendered the trencher outmoded.

The first Italian recipe that vaguely resembled a panino was that for panunto (greased bread) described by Domenico Ramoli at the end of the 16th century—he even got nicknamed by his dish.

While references to “bread and meat” or “bread and cheese” are found throughout English drama from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, a delay in the evolution of the sandwich ensued. Thankfully, the concept was finally revived in the 18th century by John Montague, the Fourth Earl of Sandwich, who was First Lord of the Admiralty and patron to Capt. James Cook who explored New Zealand, Australia, Hawaii, and Polynesia; he even designated the Hawaiian Islands as the Sandwich Islands. Rumor holds that Montague was so addicted to gambling that he steadfastly refused to pause for meals and instead ordered his valet to bring him meat tucked between two pieces of bread. While legends vary, it remains beyond quarrel that the word “sandwich” bears the name of John Montague, the Earl of Sandwich.

The sandwich was introduced to the states by the English import Elizabeth Leslie in the 19th century. In her cookbook, Directions for Cookery, she authored a recipe for ham sandwiches, which have evolved into an American tradition in many sizes, shapes and forms.

With the demand for haste emerging in the last century, sandwiches—from simple to elegant–have risen to become a staple of western civilization, for both rich and poor. Panini have slowly evolved from being basic worker’s fare to become trendy morsels on the food scene.

On panini preparation: brush the outside of the panini with extra virgin olive oil and fill it with whatever whets your palate—cheeses, cured meats, herbs, etc. As with pizzas and pasta, do not overload the sandwiches as the bread should be allowed a place at the table too. Proportions = “perfection.”

Should you own a panini grill, by all means use it. If not, use a ridged grill pan and place another surface, such as a small cutting board or another pan on top of the panini as they cook. Place a weight on the board or pan to press down the panini, causing those signature ridges and thinning the sandwiches overall. Turn and repeat. The panini should be cooked to golden brown with grill marks and the innards pressed narrowly…usually slightly oozing with luscious cheese.

Recipes will follow on a subsequent entry, as I may have already overstayed my welcome with these ramblings. In the meantime, consider:

pesto, arugula, watercress, roasted peppers, sun dried tomatoes, garlic, tapenade, mozzarella, brie, gruyere, talleggio, fontina, pecorino, goat cheese, proscuitto, serrano, coppa, soppresatta, and pancetta, arugula, chard, basil, radicchio, baby spinach, extra virgin olive oil, truffle oil or salt, garlic oil, ciabatta, pain au levain, or baguette artisanal breads.

P.S. Use your imagination, as the possibilities prove endless.

Pizza Di Nuovo

April 20, 2009

The perfect lover is one who turns into a pizza at 4:00 a.m.
~Charles Pierce

CALZONE WITH PROSCUITTO, CHEESES & HERBS

4 ozs goat cheese, crumbled
8 ozs mozzarella, grated
3-4 slices proscuitto, about 1/8″ thick
2 T fresh chives, finely chopped
3 T fresh oregano, minced
3 sprigs thyme leaves, peeled off stem, chopped
2 plump fresh garlic cloves, peeled and finely minced

Extra virgin olive oil

1 pizza dough, rolled out

Preheat oven to 500 F with pizza stone inside for at least 30 minutes.

Cut proscuitto into 2″ long julienne strips. Combine goat cheese, mozzarella, proscuitto, chives, parsley, thyme and garlic cloves, making a thick paste. Arrange the filling on one half of the dough, leaving a 1″ margin on the edge. Fold the dough over to seal, pinching with fingers, much like closing the top and bottom crusts on a fruit pie.

Bake the calzone, until lightly browned, about 15 minutes. Calzones tend to take a few more minutes to cook than open pizza. Brush with olive oil immediately after removing from oven. Let rest before slicing.

GOAT CHEESE, ROASTED GARLICS & SUNDRIED TOMATOES

6+ plump, fresh roasted garlic cloves, peeled and sliced*
4 ozs goat cheese, crumbled
4 ozs mozzarella, shredded
10 sundried tomatoes, packed in olive oil and cut into ribbons

Extra virgin olive oil
Parmigiano reggiano, grated
1 bunch basil, cut into ribbons

1 pizza dough, rolled out

Preheat oven to 500 F with pizza stone inside for at least 30 minutes.

Lightly brush pizza with the garlic olive oil, using a pastry brush. Spread the pizza dough with mozzarella, leaving a 1″ border. Scatter crumbled goat cheese over mozzarella. Strew garlic cloves and sun dried tomatoes over cheeses.

Bake the pizza, until lightly browned, about 10-12 minutes. When cooked, drizzle with olive oil and garnish with grated parmigiano reggiano and basil.

*Roasted Garlic

Preheat oven to 400 F

Leaving skin on, cut 2 heads of garlic in half transversely. Place each half in a ramekin, cut side up. Cover with extra virgin olive oil and then foil. Place on a cooking sheet or baking dish and cook until slightly golden, about 25 minutes. Set aside to cool. Keep garlic oil for cooking purposes, including brushing on pizzas or calzones in lieu of simple extra virgin olive oil.

TAPENADE, CAPERS & CITRUS ZEST

Tapenade
2 C brine-cured olives, such as Niçoise, pitted
2 fresh plump garlic cloves, peeled and chopped roughly
2 T capers, drained and rinsed
2 high quality anchovy fillets
1/2 t fresh thyme leaves
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 t Dijon mustard
Dash of brandy or cognac
6 T olive oil
Freshly ground pepper

If the anchovies are salt packed, let them stand in a bowl of milk for 15 minutes to exude the salt. Then, drain thoroughly.

In the bowl of a food processor, combine the drained anchovies, olives, capers, mustard, garlic, cognac and thyme. Process in bursts to form a thick paste.

With the processor running, add the olive oil in a slow, steady stream until it is thoroughly incorporated. Season with pepper, then allow the tapenade to stand for an hour or so to allow the flavors to marry.

Tapenade
8 ozs fresh mozzarella, shredded or thinly sliced
Extra virgin olive oil

Parmigiano reggiano, grated
2 T capers, well drained
Zest from 1/2 lemon
Zest from 1/2 orange

1 pizza dough, rolled out

Preheat oven to 500 F with pizza stone inside for at least 30 minutes.

Lightly brush pizza with olive oil, using a pastry brush. Spread the pizza dough with tapenade, leaving a 1″ border. Strew mozzarella over the tapenade.

Bake the pizza, until lightly browned, about 10-12 minutes. When cooked, garnish with capers, citrus zest and then a grating of parmigiano reggiano.

SAUSAGE & CHILI PEPPERS

5-7 chili peppers of varying colors (poblanos, anaheims, jalapeños, serranos), stemmed, seeded and thinly sliced
2 plump fresh garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
1/3 lb. fresh Italian sausage, out of casings and crumbled
8 ozs fresh mozzarella or serrano, shredded or thinly sliced
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
Large pinch dried thyme

Extra virgin olive oil
Parmigiano reggiano, grated
Fresh thyme sprigs

1 pizza dough, rolled out

Preheat oven to 500 F with pizza stone inside for at least 30 minutes.

In a large, heavy skillet, add 3 tablespoons olive oil, garlic and sauté chili peppers on medium high heat. Season with salt, pepper and thyme. Remove and set aside, discarding garlic. Add sausage and cook until lightly browned. Drain on paper towels.

Brush pizza dough with olive oil and cover with mozzarella, leaving a 1″ border. Arrange sausage and chili peppers atop the mozzarella.

Bake the pizza, until lightly browned, about 10-12 minutes. When cooked, garnish with a grating of parmigiano reggiano and a few fresh thyme sprigs.

PIZZA CON UOVO (EGG)

3 large fresh, organic, free range eggs
8 ozs fresh mozzarella, shredded or thinly sliced
3-4 slices proscuitto or serrano, very thinly sliced, and then sliced again lengthwise
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Parmigiano reggiano, grated
1-2 T fresh tarragon, chopped

1 pizza dough, rolled out

Preheat oven to 500 F with pizza stone inside for at least 30 minutes.

Brush pizza dough with olive oil and cover with mozzarella, leaving a 1″ border. Season with salt and pepper.

Remove pizza half way through cooking (about 5-6 minutes), arrange proscuitto on cheese and crack eggs on top in an equilateral triangle; sprinkle with pepper and return to the oven to cook through. Bake the pizza, until lightly browned, for a the remaining 5-6 minutes. When cooked, garnish liberally with a grating of parmigiano reggiano and chopped tarragon.