Tips, tricks, the like

Panini aren’t really difficult to make. I don’t know that the making of them is quite deserving of the verb cooking, unless you’re shaking a frying pan on behalf of a frittata that you’ll settle between the bread slices, or carmelizing onions or some such thing. But otherwise panini making is the slipping on a crisp t-shirt and jeans of food preparation.

It’s the panini press – oh, most beloved of small kitchen appliances – that renders what would otherwise be a mere sandwich presentable, worthy of a clean plate and fabric napkin instead of a Ziploc bag and a paper sack. Those neat grill marks and the resulting symmetry, the toasty exterior giving way to a chewy inside. (Speaking of which, I hate it when restaurants under grill their panini, when the bread is whisked out of the press while still soft, the fillings never getting a fair chance to shake off the cold.)

Still, easy or not, the whole practice can benefit from a tip or two, which is what I found the other night when I made shrimp, fontina and tomato panini.

It’s how the whole learning-to-cook thing works, really – someone much more informed and experienced than you passes along a few words of wisdom, shows you a trick to do something you’d never have imagined on your own, and suddenly the thing you’ve been trying to do is made simpler, more efficient.

So, in the spirit of playing it forward, I’m sharing these latest favorite tips. They’re not really related, but when it came to putting together these panini, they were fine friends. I think you’ll like them, too, no matter under what circumstances you opt to put them to use.

Tip #1: Cut out the insides of your ciabatta or baguette.

A few years back I had an (absolutely healthy) obsession with Giada De Laurentiis. I loved to watch her cook, and once, while I was watching her make panini, she scooped out the insides of ciabatta rolls. The idea was that ditching the innards made more room for the sandwich fillings. Hello, revelation.

Tip #2: Defrost frozen shrimp in boiling, lemon-scented water.

My new favorite way to prepare frozen shrimp is adapted from The Splendid Table’s How to Eat Supper from Lynne Rosetto Kasper and Sally Swift. Of course I love Kasper’s dedication to the practical aspects of cooking, as all the while she maintains her promise of top-notch ingredients and fail-proof recipes. So this trick, for a pound of shrimp, is a winner.

Squeeze the juice of a half a lemon into a medium saucepan. Add the lemon rind and cover with a quart of water. Bring the water to a simmer and maintain the simmer over medium-low heat for 10 minutes. Raise the heat to high, add the shrimp, cover and bring to a boil. Remove the pan from the heat. Drain the water off the shrimp, but keep them in that pan, off the heat, partially covered for up to 15 minutes.

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7 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    deizans said,

    Totally with you on cutting out the insides of cibatta and baguettes. I use this trick for both my sandwiches and for really great, extra saucy French bread pizzas. Like your blog a lot. Just happened to stumble across it this morning.

  2. 2

    Trisha said,

    Thanks, deizans! Glad you stumbled across the blog! I love that idea for French bread pizzas — extra sauce makes the world go ’round.

  3. 3

    alexanderclan1 said,

    Good Blog, e panini molto Buoni!!!!

  4. 4

    PaniniKathy said,

    I never knew about the roll-scooping tip – great idea! I’ve definitely run into overly bready situations 🙂

  5. 5

    Elisa said,

    Words can’t express how excited I am about your shrimp tip! I have always felt so guilty about running water over my shrimp for the advised 5-8 minutes. Does the boiling water actually cook the shrimp or just defrost them so they’re ready for further meal prep?

  6. 6

    Trisha said,

    Alexanderclan1: Grazie mille!

    PaniniKathy: Love that you have an all-panini blog! There are certainly more than enough panini ideas for that kind of thing.

    Elisa: To answer your excellent question, the boiling water does cook the shrimp (and makes them flavorful and juicy). So you wouldn’t want to use this method on frozen pre-cooked shrimp, or the shrimp would get too chewy.

  7. 7

    True that panini are easy to make. I have learned the easy way with Giada De Laurentiis’ show everyday Italian. And with this blog I have learned some useful tips for me to make a great panini.


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