Panini Girl

My obsessions-Italy and Cooking


October 13, 2016


Vegetable Pot Pies


I am a pot pie lover. I suppose my earliest memory of pot pies were the  ones in little aluminum pans made by Swansons-what a treat they were! Fast forward many years to my dinner delivery business where we sold individual chicken pot pies ready to pop in the oven for one very easy dinner. These were a favorite of our customers and I’ve continued with that same recipe over the years, although I’ve changed the topping to my go to pie crust recipe.

I’ve made vegetarian pot pies before filling them with cauliflower, mushrooms, broccoli and carrots. This version may look like a lot of ingredients and a fair amount of chopping, but it is well worth the effort. I am a fan of all these cool weather veggies, especially celery root and the fresh thyme and sage lend a subtle earthy flavor to the creamy sauce.

As for the topping, you certainly could go the easy route and go with purchased puff pastry, but if you have the time definitely bake the biscuits. As you can see I made more than a few and didn’t have enough sage left to top each biscuit with a sage leaf. They were delicious nonetheless and I can see myself making these throughout the winter months.

Vegetable Pot Pie with Sweet Potato Biscuits
1 pound parsnips, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 pound brussels sprouts, halved lengthwise
1/2 pound pearl onions, peeled and halved (see Note)
1 medium head of cauliflower (1 1/2 pounds), cut into 1-inch florets
1 large celery root (1 1/2 pounds), peeled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
20 sage leaves, plus 1 teaspoon chopped sage
6 thyme sprigs, plus 1 teaspoon chopped thyme
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 1/2 cups milk
1/4 cup finely chopped yellow onion
5 flat-leaf parsley sprigs
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup heavy cream
Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
Unbaked Sweet Potato Biscuits
1 large egg, beaten

Preheat the oven to 425°. In a large roasting pan, toss the parsnips, brussels sprouts, pearl onions, cauliflower and celery root with the olive oil. Add 6 of the sage leaves and 4 of the thyme sprigs and season with salt and pepper. Roast for about 30 minutes, stirring once or twice, until the vegetables are tender and lightly browned in spots. Discard the sage leaves and thyme sprigs. Lower the oven temperature to 375°.
Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan, combine the milk with the chopped onion, parsley, 6 of the sage leaves and the remaining 2 thyme sprigs and bring to a simmer. Cover and let stand off the heat for 15 minutes. Strain the milk; rinse out the saucepan.
Melt the butter in the saucepan. Add the flour and cook over moderate heat, whisking, until golden, about 2 minutes. Add the strained milk to the saucepan, reduce the heat to low and whisk occasionally until very thick, about 10 minutes. Whisk in the chopped sage and thyme and the heavy cream and season with the nutmeg and salt and pepper. Fold the sauce into the roasted vegetables.
Spoon the vegetable mixture into eight large, 4-inch-wide ramekins and top with the unbaked Sweet Potato Biscuits. Brush the tops of the biscuits with the beaten egg and press the 8 remaining sage leaves onto the biscuits. Bake the potpies in the center of the oven for about 15 minutes until the biscuits are golden and risen and the filling is bubbling. Let the potpies cool slightly, then serve.


Sweet Potato Biscuits (makes 8)

1 medium-small sweet potato, peeled and cut into ½ inch pieces
1 ¾ cups regular flour
1 Tbs. brown sugar
2 ½ tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. salt
7 Tbs. cold regular butter, cut into small pieces
1/3 cup buttermilk or plain yogurt
In a pot, cover the sweet potato with water, bring to a boil, then turn down to a simmer and cook until soft, about 20 minutes. Drain the potato well, then smash it up with a fork. Reserve ¾ cup of it and let it cool (you can use the rest of it for something else, for example eating it for a snack as you cook).
In a bowl, stir together the flour, sugar, baking powder and soda, and salt. Rub the butter into the flour mixture until it looks like a coarse sand. Alternatively you can just pulse all these ingredients together in a food processor. Stir in the buttermilk and ¾ cup sweet potato mash until all the ingredients are just combined. Scoop the dough out into a ball, and knead it a couple of times on a well floured surface.
Then, roll it to about ¼ inch thick and cut it into 8 biscuits – you can make squares or use a 4 inch circle cutter. Put the unbaked biscuits on top of your pot pies before baking. Or, if you just want biscuits, bake them in a 425F oven for 15 minutes, until golden.


October 7, 2016


Tomato Stack Salad


The calendar might say October, but here in sunny San Diego we recently had the warmest week of the year (104 last Sunday-ugh). At the farmers market today I noticed that in addition to the usual assortment of vine ripened tomatoes there were a few vendors selling butternut and kabocha squash. How exciting I thought, yet it’s still too warm for me to cross over to start preparing my fall favorites. While there are gorgeous tomatoes available I’m a slave to using them.

I’ve had this recipe tucked away in a file for some time and decided it was finally time to put it to good use. I found some very hefty (almost a pound a piece) heirloom tomatoes and knew they would be perfect for this recipe. Take care when making the Parmesan Crisps.  Mine stuck to the parchment and I ended up with Parmesan crumbs-not very pretty, but tasty nonetheless.

On a side note-as I walked into Costco this morning the first display that I saw was piled high with containers of pre-made Parmesan crisps! They actually looked pretty good.


Tomato Stack Salad

Parmesan crisps

2-1/2 cups grated Parmigiano-Reggiano


1 small shallot, minced (about 1-1/2 Tbs.)
4 tsp. Champagne vinegar
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
Kosher or sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
2 Tbs. grapeseed oil or canola oil

1 cup baby arugula leaves
1 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
1 cup fresh basil leaves, torn into bite-size pieces if large
1/2 cup fresh tarragon leaves
1/2 cup 1-inch-long fresh chive pieces
20 small nasturtium leaves (optional)
Kosher or sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Sixteen 1/3-inch-thick heirloom tomato slices, preferably of different colors, sizes, and shapes (2 to 3 lb.)
About 20 various heirloom cherry tomatoes, halved or quartered
Make the parmesan crisps:
Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat it to 375°F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with a nonstick baking liner or parchment. Spread the grated cheese over the entire surface of the liner. Bake until the cheese is amber brown, about 18 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool. Break into irregular pieces (each about 3 inches across). You’ll need 12 pieces for the Napoleons, but this batch makes extra to cover the inevitable breaking (and snacking). ***Definitely use a Silpat  (non-stick baking liner) to make the crisps. Not having one, I used parchment paper and although the cheese crisped up nicely there was no way to get it off the paper! I ended up scraping it up into crumbs and sprinkled the crumbs over the tomato slices. Time to invest in Silat.

Make the vinaigrette:
Put the shallot, vinegar, mustard, and a pinch each of salt and pepper in a small bowl or dressing cruet. Allow the shallots to sit in the vinegar for at least 20 minutes and up to 1 hour. Whisk or shake in both oils. Season to taste with more salt and pepper.

To serve:
In a large bowl, mix the arugula, parsley, basil, tarragon, chives, and nasturtium leaves (if using). Lightly dress with some of the vinaigrette. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Divide the salad evenly among 4 salad plates. Arrange a large tomato slice on each salad, sprinkle lightly with salt, and top with a piece of parmesan crisp. Continue to alternate the lightly salted tomatoes and cheese pieces until you have used 3 pieces of the parmesan crisp in each Napoleon. Finish off the top of each Napoleon with an unsalted tomato slice. Arrange the cherry tomatoes around the Napoleons and drizzle any remaining vinaigrette around the plates. Sprinkle everything with salt and pepper. Serve immediately. Serves 4

October 1, 2016


Torta Caprese




I am a chocoholic. There, I said it. I can’t let a day go by without a little bite or two. When planning dessert for dinner guests I’m inevitably drawn to something chocolate and this time was no exception. Even though I’ve never had the pleasure of visiting  Capri, I am well acquainted with the dessert named for this island. If you are traveling  through the region of Campania you will frequently see this on the menu. Dare I say that the next time I eat this I hope to be somewhere on the Amalfi coast…

Torta Caprese is a chocolate and almond delight. The list of ingredients is short and the technique is simple. For those who might be looking for a flourless dessert, this fits the bill. As it bakes the crust becomes crispy while the interior of the cake is moist and light, yet incredibly rich. Dust with powdered sugar and serve with freshly whipped cream. You’ll have your guests swooning.



Torta Caprese (from Food Lover’s Odyssey)

(makes one 9-inch cake)

9 ounces (255 g) good quality dark chocolate, chopped into small pieces
1 cup (225 g) butter
1/4 cup (25 g) cocoa powder
1 teaspoon almond extract
1 1/4 cup (250 g) granulated sugar
1 1/2 cups finely ground blanched and toasted almonds
6 medium-sized eggs, room temperature (If you use large eggs, use only 5 eggs in this recipe)

Preheat an oven to 310°F and line the bottom of a 9-inch spring form pan with parchment paper.

Slowly melt the chocolate and butter over a double-boiler. In a stand mixer with a whisk attachment, whisk together the melted chocolate mixture, the cocoa powder, almond extract and sugar until combined. Add the ground almonds and whisk until combined. Add the eggs one at a time, adding each egg after the first has been incorporated into the mixture.

Pour the mixture into the spring form pan. Make sure the mixture is level and smooth on top. Bake for about 50 minutes. The cake will rise a bit and then fall back on itself once it cools. The baking time varies slightly depending on your oven, but the cake should be very moist in the center and dense once it cools. Cool before serving.

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!