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.