Panini Girl

My obsessions-Italy and Cooking


July 31, 2015


Caesar Salad Spring Rolls

salad rolls

Looking for an easy do ahead appetizer? Well here you go. What I love about this recipe is that you use rice paper rounds. In the past I thought this incredible product was relegated to Asian food, but not so. This simple appetizer bears little resemblance to what you’re probably thinking of as a spring roll. When I think of those I’m reminded of shredded carrots, and cucumber with some mint and cilantro and maybe a few shrimp thrown in and then served with that addictive peanut dipping sauce. These use the rice paper as the wrapper, but the filling is quite different.

I was drawn to this hors d’oeuvres for a few reasons. The first being, who doesn’t like caesar salad? A little nibbly with those flavors had to be interesting. Secondly, you can make them a few hours ahead, refrigerate and slice when you’re ready to serve. And last, but not least, I saw the word “prosciutto” in the recipe!

One more thing-the rolls (before slicing) travel well so this is an hors d’oeuvres you can count on when you’re asked to bring a little something to a get together.

Caesar Salad Spring Rolls


1/4 cup mayonnaise
1 tablespoon freshly grated Parmesan
1 teaspoon minced anchovies (I used a little anchovy paste)
1/2 teaspoon lemon juice


1 tablespoon butter
1/2 cup of 1/4″ cubes crustless sourdough bread

Spring Rolls

8 8-1/2″ diameter rice paper rounds
16 paper-thin slices prosciutto
4 large romaine lettuce leaves, cut lengthwise into 1/4″ wide strips
1-1/2 cups baby arugula leaves

Whisk dressing ingredients together and season with salt and freshly ground pepper.
Melt butter in small skillet over medium heat. Add bread cubes and saute until golden. Turn out onto paper towel and sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Pour some warm water into a large shallow dish (I like to use a large skillet). Submerge one rice paper round in water until it begins to soften, about 45 seconds. Place on a sheet of parchment paper. Top with 2 slices of prosciutto, arranged side by side and covering most of rice paper round. place 1/8 of lettuce and arugula down center. Tightly roll into a cylinder, enclosing filling. Repeat with remaining rounds. Cover with a dampened paper towel or wrap in plastic. Chill. Can be made 4 hours ahead.

When ready to serve, remove from plastic and cut each piece into three 2′ long pieces. Stand upright on platter and top with a dollop of dressing and croutons.

July 23, 2015


Grilled Gazpacho Salad


Some years back I was part of a small group of women known as “recipe club”. We tried to meet monthly and as the host you were responsible for the entire meal, from appetizer through dessert. The most interesting thing about our get togethers was that each dish had to be one that you’d never made before. Some of you might find this to be a little intimidating, but actually it was a great way to try out new things without fear of being judged by your guests. I have fond memories of those meals (and the gossip and laughs) and can’t really think of many failures. At the end of the evening the recipes were handed out and some of them got filed away and others became old favorites.

This recipe (adapted from Bon Appetit) came from one of those dinners. With one bite I knew this was a dish that I would be making again. It’s definitely a salad to serve when summer produce is at its peak and yes, the ingredients (except for the shrimp) are what you find in gazpacho. You could certainly leave out the shrimp, but I think they are a nice counterpoint to the sweetness of the caramelized vegetables. Call a few friends, pour some chilled wine, head out to the patio and savor this quintessential summery salad.

Grilled Gazpacho Salad

1 medium head of garlic, separated into cloves and peeled
3/4 cup olive oil, divided
1 1/2 pounds uncooked large shrimp, deveined but with shells intact
8 firm plum tomatoes, halved lengthwise
2 bunches green onions; root ends trimmed, onions left whole
1 1-pound sweet onion (such as Vidalia or Maui), cut into 1/2-inch-thick slices
1 red bell pepper, quartered, cored
1 yellow bell pepper, quartered, cored
1 1/2 large English hothouse cucumbers, peeled, halved lengthwise
2 6x3x1-inch slices country-style bread
2 cups cherry tomatoes, halved (about 1 pint)
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/2 cup thinly sliced fresh basil

Prepare barbecue (medium-high heat). Set aside 2 garlic cloves for bread slices. Place remaining garlic on double layer of heavy-duty foil; drizzle 3 tablespoons olive oil over. Fold up and seal packet. Place directly on grill rack and cook until garlic is very tender and golden, about 20 minutes. Open packet; cool garlic.

Toss shrimp (in shells) and 1 tablespoon oil in medium bowl to coat; sprinkle with salt and pepper. Combine plum tomatoes, green onions, sweet onion, both bell peppers, and 2 tablespoons oil in large bowl; toss to coat. Arrange cucumber halves and bread slices on baking sheet; brush with 2 tablespoons oil. Sprinkle all vegetables with salt and pepper. Grill shrimp until just opaque, about 2 1/2 minutes per side; transfer to another bowl and cool. Grill vegetables until crisp-tender, turning frequently, about 3 minutes for plum tomatoes and green onions, 5 minutes for cucumbers, and 15 minutes for sweet onion and bell peppers. Transfer to large rimmed baking sheet. Grill bread slices until just beginning to crisp and grill marks appear, about 2 1/2 minutes per side. Rub bread with reserved garlic cloves, then discard garlic cloves.

Peel shrimp; transfer to large bowl. Cut all vegetables and bread into 1/2- to 3/4-inch pieces; add to shrimp along with any accumulated juices. Stir in grilled garlic cloves and grape tomatoes. Whisk vinegar and remaining 4 tablespoons oil in small bowl; pour over salad and toss to coat. Serves: 6

July 11, 2015


Brown Butter Blondies


I definitely have a sweet tooth. There’s no denying it and anything with chocolate is on the top of my list. I start each and every day with a cookie alongside my morning cappuccino and always keep the freezer stocked with baked goods.

Of course I have my old favorites, but I’m constantly on the hunt for a new recipe. These remind me of the bars on the back of the chocolate chip bag, but taken to a whole new level. First use the best chocolate that you can (I used Belgian Callebaut) and go with dark brown sugar. Don’t skimp on time when making the brown butter since this adds to the flavor of the finished product. Lastly, do make these in an 8″ square pan which will give you a nice thick bar. You’ll be happy when you bite into a big chunk of chocolate.

Brown Butter Blondies (from Food 52)

2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 heaping teaspoon kosher salt
2 eggs
4 teaspoons good-quality vanilla extract
1 3/4 cups dark brown sugar (light brown is a good second choice)
1 cup bittersweet chocolate chips

Melt the butter in a medium-sized saucepan. Swirl it around a few times. It will foam and spatter. After 3 to 4 minutes, it will start to smell nutty. Don’t walk away. It’s ready when the sizzling quiets down and you see little brown bits drop to the bottom of the pan. Pour into a large bowl. Cool completely (about 30 minutes).

Alternatively, if you want a blondie marbled with chocolate, cool butter for only 5 minutes and proceed with the recipe. The warm dough will melt the chocolate chips a bit. Heat oven to 350° F. Prepare your 8 by 8-inch baking pan with butter and flour, parchment paper, or aluminum foil (I find foil to be the easiest: just press it into the pan with a little overhang, no need to grease). Set aside.

Whisk together flour and salt. In another bowl, whisk together eggs and vanilla. Set aside. Add brown sugar to the cooled butter. Mix with a wooden spoon for about a minute. Add egg/vanilla mixture to butter/sugar mixture. Mix until combined and shiny, about 20 seconds. Add flour mixture to the butter/sugar/egg mixture. Mix until there are still a few pockets of flour visible. Add chocolate chips. Mix until evenly distributed and all flour pockets are gone, but be careful not to over-mix! Spoon dough into your prepared baking pan. Spread evenly with the back of your wooden spoon (it will keep its shape).

Bake for 25 to 30 minutes. You can’t do the toothpick test with this because it always comes out clean. Instead, look for a crispy top that’s just starting to crack. Firm slightly-browned edges. And when you press on the center, you don’t want it to feel really soft. Don’t stress. You can always throw it back in later. Just know that once it’s cool, it will firm up quite a bit. Remove from the oven. Cool completely before removing from the pan. The blondie block should pop right out (either pull out by parchment/alumninum foil or if in a greased pan, just invert onto a cutting board and carefully flip it back over). Cut into desired portion sizes. These keep for a few days at room temperature in an airtight container. Or you can freeze them for a few months.

July 4, 2015


Sformato Di Ricotta


I’m not sure that this qualifies as an actual “sformato” but it is a dish that I could sit down, grab a spoon and devour. Some of you may be asking “what actually is a sformato“? I know that was my question when I first encountered it on a menu in Acqui Terme in Piemonte. You can read about my first experience here.

Anyway, after doing some research it seemed to me that a traditional sformato involves cream and eggs and is somewhat akin to a souffle, but I dare say that it is easier. There’s no whipping of egg whites and the urgency of getting it on the table asap is not there either. Usually the sformati are cooked in a water bath, whereas this re-creation from London’s famed River Cafe does not require this step. You also don’t have to cook and puree any vegetables for this rendition.

What I love about this recipe is that you need not wait for summer tomatoes to make it. Cherry tomatoes are available at the market year long and once roasted they will pop with flavor. Since it is summer and tomatoes are at their peak, why not try this now? Each and every bite bursts with the perfect combination of the sweet roasted tomatoes and creamy ricotta cheese. Serve alongside roasted meat or fish.


Sformato di Ricotta

2 tablespoons butter, softened
2 ounces freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
10 ounces cherry tomatoes
1 large garlic clove, peeled and halved lengthwise
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
6 eggs
2 ¼ cups fresh ricotta
1 cup crème fraîche
2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves (no stems)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Grease the bottom of a 2-quart baking dish with 1 tablespoon butter; sprinkle with 2 tablespoons Parmigiano-Reggiano. Add the tomatoes and garlic; drizzle with 1 tablespoon olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Shake dish to coat tomatoes with cheese. Bake 15 minutes, until tomatoes are hot and start to split, shaking dish occasionally. Remove tomatoes from oven; cool in dish. Spoon tomatoes and their juices into a bowl; reserve the baking dish but do not wash it out.

When baking dish is cool enough to touch, grease bottom and sides with the remaining butter. Mix the eggs and ricotta in a food processor until smooth.Add the crème fraíche and half the thyme and process until mixed. Season with salt and pepper. Spread the ricotta mixture in the baking dish; scatter the tomatoes and their juices and remaining thyme on top. Sprinkle with remaining Parmigiano-Reggiano and drizzle with olive oil. Bake until heated through, about 20 minutes.

June 26, 2015


Almond Praline Ice Cream Cake


The year was 1997. I saw this recipe in Gourmet magazine and planned on making it for an upcoming dinner party. I read the recipe over and over, counted the steps involved, placed it back in my file box and decided on something a little simpler.

Time passed, another dinner party in the works and out came the recipe. Once again back into the file. This went on a few more times until last week when I decided to get over my hesitation and make it. Yes, it took eighteen years for me to just do it. In the end it wasn’t as hard as I had thought it would be. This is a dessert that works best if you make it over a few days.. The almond brittle can be done a week ahead. You can turn the brittle into almond butter a few days ahead, the meringue layers the day before.

I’m sending you over to the Epicurious site for the recipe. Don’t wait as long as I did to try it. I will say that it is a rather sweet dessert and can easily serve 12. Leftovers are pretty good too!

June 21, 2015


Green Goddess Pistachio Cheese Ball

nut ball

First an upside down cake, now a cheese ball. What’s next-tuna noodle casserole? You will never see tuna noodle casserole on this blog. I never liked it, not even as a kid. Does it seem like I have a retro thing going on here?

Bon Appetit featured three “cheese balls” back in October and from the moment that I saw them I knew I would try at least one of them. They all looked appealing, but when I saw “Green Goddess” my decision was made.

There may be more than a few ingredients, but you can see from the directions that this comes together with a few pulses of the food processor. Roll your ball in chopped nuts (you could certainly choose another type, maybe toasted pine nuts), open a box of crackers and you have one easy appetizer. Oh, and don’t forget that cocktail…


Green Goddess Pistachio Cheese Ball
4 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
4 ounces goat cheese, room temperature
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
4 anchovy fillets
1 cup watercress leaves
¼ cup mixed tender herb leaves (such as mint, parsley, tarragon and/or cilantro)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives
Kosher salt
¾ cup pistachios, toasted, chopped

Process cream cheese, goat cheese, and butter in a food processor until smooth. Pulse in anchovies, watercress, herbs, and chives; season with salt. Scrape mixture into a small plastic wrap–lined bowl; gather plastic around cheese, using your hands to shape into a ball. Chill until firm, 3–12 hours.
Just before serving, unwrap cheese ball and roll in pistachios. Serve with crackers.

June 18, 2015


Rhubarb Upside Down Cake


I didn’t grow up eating rhubarb. I think the first time I tried it was a few years ago when I picked up a lovely looking bunch at the farmers’ market and came home and made a rhubarb crisp. My mother warned me that I better use a lot of sugar. This advice came from a woman who I’m quite sure never handled a stalk of rhubarb, but I think she was right. I was pleased with my crisp and some time later paired rhubarb with strawberries for a summery crostata.

I recently had a request for a pineapple upside down cake at my job. The following day I spied this recipe on the Food 52 website. Having had success with flipping a much larger rectangular cake out on to a platter, I decided to give this recipe a go.

The batter for this cake was similar to the topping for a cobbler. It’s not really spreadable-simply drop spoonfuls over the stewed rhubarb. I didn’t have a 9″ cast iron skillet, but did have a heavy stainless lined skillet which worked perfectly.

I found this cake best served warm and topped with vanilla ice cream. If you bake it earlier in the day, warm it slightly before serving.

Rhubarb Upside Down Cake

1 1/2 cups sugar, divided
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus 1 stick and 6 tablespoons cut into 1/2-inch cubes and chilled
Zest of one lemon
1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
Scant 1 pound rhubarb, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/3 cup whole milk
2 eggs, lightly beaten

Heat oven to 375° F. Melt 1 cup of the sugar, 4 tablespoons butter, lemon zest and juice, vanilla, and 1/4 teaspoon of salt in a 9-inch cast iron skillet over medium heat. When the butter and sugar have melted together, add the rhubarb pieces and cook, stirring occasionally, until rhubarb is tender and slightly caramelized, 6 to 8 minutes, depending on the thickness of your rhubarb stalks.

Meanwhile, whisk together remaining sugar and salt, plus flour and baking powder in a bowl. Add remaining butter, and using your fingers, rub into flour mixture to form coarse pea-size pieces. Like Phyllis Grant would say, make like you’re snapping your fingers. Add milk and eggs and stir until a soft, sticky dough forms. If your eggs are on the small side, you may need an extra splash of milk for the dough to come together. Place pieces of dough over the hot rhubarb mixture, trying to cover the entire surface. It will feel a little like you’re making a cobbler, but the dough will rise up and fill in any holes you’ve left.

Bake on a baking sheet until the cake is golden and cooked through, about 30 to 35 minutes. Remove skillet from oven and let the cake rest for about 10 minutes. Place a large, flat serving platter on top of the skillet and invert quickly and carefully. Serve warm or at room temperature with ice cream or whipped cream.


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