Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The Ultimate Panini Press Cookbook

You never know what a holiday gift can spark. For Kathy Strahs, her sister's Christmas gift to her of a panini press launched a career as a food blogger when she started investigating the possibilities of the equipment on Panini Happy. Five years later and with yet another blog, Cooking on the Side, Strahs is also now a published cookbook author. Her book, The Ultimate Panini Press Cookbook (Harvard Common Press/$19.95) will be out on September 10.

So many cookbooks are designed to be aspirational. The Ultimate Panini Press Cookbook is inspirational. If you don't already have a panini press, it'll make you want to rush out and buy one. Or a George Foreman grill, or any countertop grill. And, you don't have to use it to make grill-marked panini alone, as Strahs points out. The more than 200 recipes--lavishly photographed by Strahs--of course include plenty of sandwiches, but there are also recipes for panini-grilling everything from heads of garlic and peaches to tri-tip steak, spatchcocked game hen, and even ice cream cones.

Photo by Kathy Strahs
Additionally, she includes tempting recipes for a variety of condiments and other small dishes that you'll want to spread on your panini, like olive oil mayonnaise, grilled tomatillo guacamole, cranberry coleslaw, and arugula pesto. There are hints for how to buy and use the press, of course, but also for how to lighten up panini, and even a top 10 list of surprising uses for a panini press that includes making bacon, French toast, seafood, quesadillas, and cookies.

Quite a versatile piece of equipment.

But, really, it all comes back to the panini itself. Strahs has compiled a virtual tour around the world of various cuisines that can be sampled between two slices of bread. Go to Jamaica with a Jerk Chicken Panini that includes caramelized onions and fresh cilantro. Or Argentina with a Chimichurri Skirt Steak Panini with Provolone and Sun-Dried Tomatoes. Enjoy her Greek-Style Caprese Panini with plenty of feta crumbled onto rustic olive bread or Beer-Grilled Bratwursts. There are vegetarian suggestions as well, such as her Grilled Peach Salad with Toasted Pecans, Blue Cheese, and Honey Balsamic Syrup and her Black Bean Patty Melt Panini. She's even got breakfast panini suggestions--try her Egg White Omelet Panino or indulge in her Rajas, Steak, and Egg Panini, made with a flatiron steak. And, for the kids, there are Panini Pops--a star-shaped (thanks to cookie cutters) grilled cheese wonders on a stick that include cooked bacon, roasted red bell peppers, or whatever additions you desire.

Since Strahs is a member of Les Dames d'Escoffier's San Diego chapter (along with me), and will have a booth at Fig Fest 2013 San Diego, the Sept. 8 event we're holding at the San Diego Public Market, she offered to share this fig-laden panini recipe with readers.

Turkey-Apple Panini with Fig and Gruyère
From The Ultimate Panini Press Cookbook by Kathy Strahs
(reprinted with permission)
(printable recipe)

Yield: 4 panini


4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter, at room temperature
8 slices rustic whole-grain bread, sliced from a dense bakery loaf
1/2 cup fig preserves
8 ounces carved or deli-sliced roast turkey
1 Granny Smith apple, cored and thinly sliced
8 ounces Gruyère cheese, thinly sliced

1. Heat the panini press to medium-high heat.
2. For each sandwich: Spread butter on two slices of bread to flavor the outside of the sandwich. Flip over both sides and spread 1 tablespoon fig preserves on the other side of each. Top one slice with turkey, apples, and cheese. Close the sandwich with the other slice of bread, buttered side up.
3. Grill two panini at a time, with the lid closed, until the cheese is melted and the bread is toasted, 4 to 5 minutes.

Photo by Kathy Strahs

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