Panini Girl

My obsessions-Italy and Cooking


September 18, 2016


Growing Up With An Italian Grandma


When I was a kid I thought everyone had a grandmother who made pasta every Sunday and  had noodles drying on the bed in the spare room. I just assumed all my friends ate homemade ravioli. What did I know?

I loved absolutely anything and everything my grandmother made. I really can’t think of one thing that I turned down. Whenever I am asked about one of the best meals I’ve ever eaten I inevitably say “my grandmother’s jingles”. What are “jingles”? Well all I knew was that they were the most amazing melt in your mouth pasta, similar to a shell or gnocchi. A few years ago while doing research on Calitri-my grandparents’ home town- I discovered that they are regional specialty and are actually called “cingul'”.

After  “jingles” I have to say that “pizza fritta” was a close second. Made with the same dough that was used for pizza made on a sheet pan, this was fried in hot oil, topped with a simple tomato sauce and a sprinkling of grated parmesan cheese.  She made them in her home kitchen, but also was called into action at the Italian church in town whenever they had a festival or what we called “a bazaar”.

I remember standing outside the booth, watching the little Italian grandmothers strring the pots of sauce, frying the pizzas and handing them over to those of us waiting our turn. I was so proud that my grandma was up there, cooking in the most popular booth at the bazaar! I can’t exactly remember the price, but they probably cost a quarter each or less.

I don’t know why it took me so long to just make these myself. They really are quite simple. The key is that the oil has to be hot-about 350 degrees.

La Pizza Fritta

1 recipe pizza dough
basic tomato basil sauce
grated parmesan

Divide dough into 6 pieces. Roll them out to about 1/4″ thick and allow to rest for about 10 minutes. Heat a frying pan over high heat, adding about 3/4″ vegetable oil (I used olive oil) and fry each pizza for about 30 seconds or so on each side. Remove with tongs. Top with sauce and cheese and serve!



September 10, 2016


Pistachio Semifreddo

Somehow the summer months have just slipped away, but thankfully we’re still having gorgeous warm weather here in southern California . It may seem like I’ve been out fooling around, but I have been cooking and baking, just not much blogging.

One of the things I love about the summer months is the simplicity of the food and ease of getting supper on the table. With such amazing produce-tomatoes, corn, zucchini, eggplant and peppers-you can get a whole lot of flavor without a whole lot of work.

I’ve been making a lot of old favorites and will share  a few of them with you here. If you hurry you still have time to try a few yourself.

Grilled Gazpacho Salad

Stuffed Eggplant Rolls

Tomato Soup

Spicy Corn Fritters

Sformata di Ricotta

I do try to throw a new recipe into the mix every now  and then and knowing that we were having friends over for dinner, I decided that it was time for a dessert that I hadn’t made before. I had considered making a chocolate icebox cake, then toyed with the idea of something fruity. After thumbing through a cookbook and seeing a recipe for pistachio semifreddo I decided to give it a go. In the end I used a recipe from Epicurious.

Although I was happy with the result, I felt that the almond flavor overwhelmed the pistachios. Next time I would use a little less extract. Don’t forget about this chocolate version that I made a while back. Both recipes are perfect do ahead desserts leaving you time to focus on the rest of the meal.



Pistachio Semifreddo

1 1/2 cups shelled salted pistachios (6 1/2 ounces)
1 cup sugar
6 large egg whites
2 cups chilled heavy cream
1/4 teaspoon almond extract

Pulse 1 cup pistachios with 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar in a food processor until very finely ground. Add remaining 1/2 cup pistachios and pulse until just coarsely ground.
Beat egg whites in a bowl with an electric mixer at medium speed until they just hold soft peaks. Beat in remaining 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar, a little at a time, then increase speed to high and beat until meringue just holds stiff, glossy peaks.
Beat cream with almond extract in a wide bowl with mixer at high speed until it just holds soft peaks.
Fold meringue into cream gently but thoroughly, then fold in nut mixture in same manner. Spoon into a 2-quart dish and freeze, covered, until firm enough to scoop, about 4 hours. Let soften slightly before serving.

August 26, 2016


Schiacciata-Tuscan Focaccia



Walk into any forno (a bakery for bread) in Tuscany and you will find schiacciata. This fluffy flat bread makes the perfect snack eaten out of hand and is also ideal for panini. The dough is dimpled by the baker’s fingers before baking and then drizzled with olive oil which collects in the little pockets. Schiacciata means “squashed or flattened”.

foccacia 2

I’ve made focaccia before using Nancy Silverton’s recipe which hails from the Puglia region and although it is amazing, it is also quite time consuming. The beauty of this recipe for Tuscan focaccia is that it comes together quite quickly and it would be easy to whip up a batch of dough in the afternoon and serve it with your dinner. You could also sprinkle fresh herbs over the dough before baking  and if you plan on using it for panini stuffed with salumi, I would cut down on the salt.

This recipe comes from Emiko Davies wonderful book FlorentineA while back I tested recipes for her book and if you’ve ever been to Florence and would like to recreate some of the dishes you ate there, then this is the book for you.


1/4 oz. (2-1/2 level teaspoons) active dry yeast

4-3/4 oz. lukewarm water

4-3/4 oz. milk, warmed

1 lb. 2 oz. all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons salt flakes

3 oz. extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra to serve

1-1/2 oz. lard or butter, at room temperature

Stir the yeast into the water and milk in a mixing bowl and let it sit for about 10 minutes. Stir the flour in a wide bowl with 1 teaspoon of the salt and then add the yeast and water mixture along  with 2 oz. (1/4 cup) of the olive oil and the butter. Combine to create a dough and knead on a lightly floured board for about 8 to 10 minutes until the dough is elastic and no longer sticky.

Place the dough in a lightly greased bowl, cover with a damp dish towel and let the dough rest in a warm draft free spot until it has doubled in size, about 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Roll or gently stretch the dough to a rough rectangle about 3/4 to 1-1/4 in. thick. Line a baking sheet with parchment and place the schiacciata on top. Dimple the top of the dough with your fingers. Drizzle and/or brush the top with the remaining olive oil and sprinkle with the rest of the salt.

Bake in the oven on the bottom shelf for 20 minutes or until golden. Drizzle with a little more olive oil before serving. Best eaten the day it is baked.

Serves: 6





July 28, 2016


Almond Cake-La Bella Sorella

cake 2

Do you know about La Bella Sorella? Her blog is one of my favorites and I wish she were my next door neighbor. If you are looking for authentic Italian recipes, then Paula’s blog is one you should turn to. She spent years teaching Italian regional cooking and if you live in her area, I hope you enrolled in one of her classes.

I saw her post on this almond cake recently  and couldn’t wait to bake one myself. I would have gone into the kitchen right away, but I didn’t have any almond paste in the cupboard. I knew that I had an upcoming trip to Surfas, a restaurant supply house in Los Angeles, and and figured I could find a good brand there. I bought a tub of almond paste made in California called Mandelin and it was perfect for this recipe.

This luscious almond torta was everything I had hoped for. It is dense, yet moist and full of almond flavor. There’s a good amount of sliced almonds covering the cake which gives it a nice crunch.

I’m sending you over to La Bella Sorella for the recipe and hope that you give it a go.  Call up a friend or two, put on the coffee and serve!


July 23, 2016


Summer Stuffed Veggies


I love the surprise of slicing into a stuffed vegetable and seeing the filling spill out. Zucchini, especially the ball variety, are perfect for stuffing. The first time I made stuffed zucchini was after returning from a trip to Italy. I had spied them in the window of gourmet shop in Lucca and after one bite knew I would recreate them in my own kitchen. Along with a salad this is a great one dish dinner.

stuffed zucchini

Veal Stuffed Zucchini

1 pound ground veal
1 egg
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
salt and freshly ground pepper
1/4 cup freshly ground Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
8 globe zucchini
Your favorite tomato sauce (I roasted San Marzano tomatoes from the garden and made a simple sauce)

Bring large pot of water to a boil. Add a little salt and zucchini. Parboil until the zucchini are slightly tender, about 4 minutes. Remove from water and cool. When cool slice the top off and scoop out the flesh (you can discard this or save for another dish).

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Mix veal with egg, cheese, parsley, salt and pepper. Stuff each zucchini with veal mixture and top with its lid. Place in baking dish and top with tomato sauce. Bake for 30 minutes. Serves 8 as a side course or 4 as an entree.


July 14, 2016


Tomato Tart



Our tomatoes are in, despite the constant battle with the squirrels who seem to think they are entitled to first choice. Thankfully our plants are flourishing and we have plenty, even if we have to share with these annoying intruders.

We’ve been eating caprese salads, tomato sandwiches, and bruschetta. I’ve been sharing bags of cherry and grape tomatoes with friends and there’s still a counter full of ripe fruit staring me in the face. Nice problem to have, right?

I knew that I would eventually whip up a tart and after reading this article in the Wall Street Journal I decided to get to work. What I love about a vegetable tart is that you don’t really need a recipe. Once your dough is done feel free to fill your it with whatever you have on hand. I have a few old favorites that you can take a look at here, here, here and here

I took a little inspiration from from the newspaper article and combined it with one of my earlier tarts. The result  is a tasty combination of tomatoes and sautéed onions with a little kick of dijon mustard. Perfect with a salad for a light summer supper.

Tomato Tart


1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 stick (8 ounces) plus 1 tablespoon cold unsalted butter
About 1/4 cup ice water

In a bowl toss flour with salt. Cut in the butter until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Using a fork, stir in the ice water by tablespoons until the dough holds together when pressed. Sprinkle in more water if needed. Flatten the dough into a disk, wrap well and refrigerate for at least 15 minutes before rolling out.

Tart Filling

2 medium onions, thinly sliced
3 sprigs fresh thyme leaves
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Salt and fresh ground pepper
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1/2 cup grated Jarlsberg or Gruyere cheese
2 medium vine ripened tomatoes, sliced crosswise 1/3″ thick
1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon heavy cream

1 egg beaten  (to glaze crust)

In large pan saute the onions in olive oil over very low heat until the onions are light brown. Season with salt and pepper and add the fresh thyme leaves. Let cool.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Roll out dough on a lightly floured board to a 14″ circle. Spread the mustard over the dough, leaving a 2″ border. Cover the mustard with the onions. Sprinkle the cheese over top and place sliced tomatoes in a ring. Season with salt and pepper. Pour the beaten egg over the tomatoes. Fold up the dough and pleat the border. Brush the dough with beaten egg.

Bake until the crust is golden, about 35 minutes. Can be served hot or at room temperature. Serves 4-6 as a main course or 8-10 as an appetizer.













July 3, 2016


Toasted Flour Shortbread


In a recent addition of Bon Appetit I came across a tutorial on baking shortbread cookies using toasted flour and the yolks of hard boiled eggs. I was intrigued by this idea and love a good shortbread cookie so I decided to give it a go. Before diving in I did a little more research on the technique of toasting flour and came upon a recipe from the well known blog Not Without Salt. The recipes were similar, except this one omitted the egg.

Are you wondering why bother to go to the trouble of toasting flour? Well the toasting gives the cookie an almost nutty flavor. There’s a chemical change that occurs when you heat the flour this way. Maybe that’s why the dough is very crumbly and your cookies may be a tad misshapen. However they look, I think you’ll like the result. Ashely, the author of Not Without Salt, suggests serving these with a dollop of raspberry jam. I personally think that a spot of Nutella wouldn’t hurt!

Toasted Flour Shortbread (from Not Without Salt)

4 oz. (1 stick) butter, softened
1 tsp vanilla
¼ cup powdered sugar
¼ cup sugar
1 ½ cups toasted flour* (see directions on how to toast below)
2 T heavy cream
¼ tsp salt

¼ cup turbinado sugar or sanding sugar


There are two methods for toasting flour. The first one is done in the oven. Preheat to 350°. Place the flour on a baking sheet. Stir often once the top layer of flour browns, until all the flour is golden. Let cool and then proceed with recipe. This will probably take 20-30 minutes, but keep checking as flour will burn quickly.

The method I used was to toast the flour stovetop in a saute pan. This takes about 10-15 minutes. Place flour in pan over medium heat and continue to stir until it is golden. As it browns there will be a nutty aroma filling your kitchen. Remove from  heat and let cool. As you can see from the above photo the toasted flour is quite a bit darker than the untoasted which is on the wooden spoon.

Cream the butter, vanilla and sugars. Add the flour, cream and salt. Stir just to combine.
Place the crumbly dough on a sheet of parchment. Form into a 1″ log. Sprinkle the turbinado sugar over the top and press it into the dough covering all sides.
Wrap tightly and refrigerate for 1 hour or until chilled.

Preheat the oven to 350°.
Slice the log into ¼’ rounds  for 12-15 minutes. Let cool on the sheet tray for 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

Makes 2 dozen