Panini Girl

My obsessions-Italy and Cooking


November 4, 2017


Pumpkin Panna Cotta & A Sendoff

panna cotta

In honor of my good friend K. who was about to set off on an adventure to the south Pacific, I had a few women in for lunch. I kept the menu simple-a wild mushroom tart and a salad. Much to the surprise of my guests I also served a dessert-not sure why this was unexpected, but in my book if you have people over a meal, dessert is a given!

I toyed with the idea of making burnt caramel pudding or apple crisp, and had finally decided on Dorie Greenspan’s Custardy Apple Squares when I remembered a pumpkin spiced  panna cotta that I tried a few years back. In terms of simplicity, panna cotta is right on the top of my dessert list. It comes together in less than fifteen minutes and uses only one saucepan. This recipe calls for making caramel sauce which I’ve done in the past, but this time I used a good quality purchased sauce.

I’m not a fan of pumpkin pie, maybe because I find it too heavy both in texture and in spices. This panna cotta uses the same flavors, but with a much lighter hand. You could certainly forego the caramel sauce, but why would you? Pumpkin panna cotta would be a nice ending to your Thanksgiving meal-light and creamy, yet packed with all the flavors that we’ve come to associate with the holiday.


Pumpkin Panna Cotta

2 cups heavy cream

1/4 cup sugar

1 tsp. vanilla

1 packet powdered gelatin

3 tbsp. cold water

3/4 cup canned pumpkin puree

1 tsp. ground cinnamon

1 tsp. pumpkin pie spice

1/4 tsp. ground cloves

Caramel Sauce

1 cup granulated sugar

2 tbsp cold water

1 1/2 tbsp light corn syrup

6 tbsp unsalted butter

3/4 cup heavy cream

1 tsp vanilla extract

Make the sauce by combining the sugar, water and corn syrup in a heavy bottomed pan until it has boiled to a deep amber color. Do not stir.

Add the butter and whisk until it’s all mixed through. Add the cream and vanilla and whisk again. Boil gently for a further 3-4 minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool. After 5-10 minutes, pour about an inch of sauce into the base of each mold you’re going to use. Place them in the fridge while you make the panna cotta.

In a medium bowl, Add the cold water and sprinkle the gelatin on top of the water. Take a large pot and place the cream and sugar into it. Stir over a medium heat until the sugar has dissolved. Remove from the heat and add the spices, vanilla and pumpkin. Whisk gently until everything is incorporated. Gradually pour the cream mixture into the gelatin/water and whisk to combine.

Take the molds from the fridge and make sure the caramel sauce has begun to set. Gently pour some of the cream mixture on top of each caramel sauce. Place the filled molds back into the fridge and let them set for at least 6 hours or overnight. Serves: 8

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October 27, 2017


Kabocha Squash & Fennel Soup

It’s finally fall-well sort of. I was recently on the east coast looking forward to those crisp autumn days and it ended up being in the 70s. At any rate the vendors at the farmers market, despite unseasonably high temperatures here in CA, have moved on to displaying all the colder weather veggies that I love. Kabocha, butternut, and acorn squash, lovely leafy chard, the tiniest brussel sprouts, broccoli and cauliflower are all proudly displayed.  Goodbye tomatoes, peppers and zucchini-it’s time to move on.

This is a soup I’ve been making for years. It comes from one of my favorite cookbooks-Sunday Suppers At Lucques-written by Suzanne Goin.  Feel free to substitute butternut squash as I did this time. Don’t even think about leaving out the fennel-roasting brings out its natural sweetness and it’s flavor complements the subtly spiced squash.

As you can see, I didn’t make the candied pumpkin seeds this time. I admit that I forgot to buy them and couldn’t bear to make one more trip to the grocery store. Nevertheless we devoured the soup one day before the temperature here hit 100 degrees.



Kabocha Squash and Fennel Soup With Creme Fraiche and Candied Pumpkin Seeds

2 pounds Kabocha squash
2 medium fennel bulbs
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons fennel seeds
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 cups sliced onions
1 tablespoon thyme leaves
2 chiles de arbol
1 bay leaf
3/4 cup sherry
10 cups chicken or vegetable stock or water
1/4 cup creme fraiche
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
Candied Pumpkin Seeds

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Peel the squash. Cut in half and remove the seeds. Slice squash into 1″ thick wedges. Cut the fennel in half and then into 1/2″ thick wedges. Toss the squash and the fennel with the olive oil, 1 teaspoon salt and some freshly ground pepper. Place the vegetables flat on a baking sheet and roast until tender and slightly carmelized, about 35 minutes.

Meanwhile toast the fennel seeds in a small pan over medium heat for 2 to 3 minutes, until seeds release their aroma and are lightly browned. Pound them coarsely in a mortar, or put between parchment paper and crush with a rolling pin.

Heat a Dutch oven or soup pot over high heat for 2 minutes. Add the butter and when it foams add the onions, fennel seeds, thyme, chiles, bay leaf, 1 teaspoon salt and a good amount of freshly ground pepper. Reduce the heat to medium-high and cook about 10 minutes, stirring often until the onions are soft, translucent and starting to color.

Add the squash and the fennel and stir to coat with the onions for a minute. Turn the heat back to high and pour in the sherry. Let it reduce for a minute or two and then add the stock and 1 tablespoon salt. Bring to a boil, turn down the heat and simmer for 20 minutes.

Strain the soup through a colander set in a pot. Put 1/3 of the solids in a blender with 1/2 cup broth (you will need to puree the soup in batches.) Process at the lowest speed until the squash mixture is pureed. Add another 1/2 cup broth and then turn the speed up to high and pour more liquid in until the soup has the consistency of heavy cream. Blend at least a minute on high until the soup is completely smooth and creamy.Transfer to a container and repeat with remaining ingredients. You may not need all the liquid. Taste for balance and seasoning.

Pour the soup into six bowls, spoon some creme fraiche into the center of each and scatter pumpkin seeds over the top.

Candied Pumpkin Seeds

1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
2 teaspoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup raw pumplin seeds
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
Generous pinch each of ground cinnamon, paprika, and cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon honey
Kosher salt

Toast the cumin seeds in a small pan over medium heat for 2 to 3 minutes, until the seeds release their aroma and are lightly browned. Pound them coarsely in a mortar.

Melt the butter in the pan over medium heat. Add the pumpkin seeds and sugar and then sprinkle the spices and a healthy pinch of salt. Toss the pumpkin seeds to coat well with the butter and cook for a few minutes, until they pop and begin to turn color.

Turn off the heat and wait 30 seconds. Add the honey, tossing well to coat the seeds. Spread on a plate and let them cool. These are delicious to just nibble on!

I made this the first time using chicken broth and this time with water and both versions were equally delicious.

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October 7, 2017


Easy Tomato Tart




It doesn’t get much easier than this. Before the tomato season is over this is a tart that I encourage you to try. I always have a box of frozen puff pastry in the freezer so there’s no need to feel pressured to make your own dough. If you can find puff pastry that’s made with butter, buy that. I love the Dufour brand, but a less expensive option is Trader Joe’s which is what I used today. They only stock it seasonally (don’t ask me why…) and it’s in their stores right now.


Tomato and Ricotta Tart

I have to admit that the ingredients are similar to the pizza I recently posted. Feel free to use whatever cheese you have on hand. Next time I think I’ll use a soft goat cheese.

1 sheet puff pastry (defrosted)

1/2 cup ricotta cheese

1/2 onion sliced

Few tablespoons olive oil plus more for drizzling

1 large or 2 medium ripe tomatoes

Salt and freshly ground pepper

Fresh basil

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Roll out one sheet of puff pastry into rectangle and place on parchment lined baking sheet.

Slice half of a medium onion and saute in a little olive oil over medium low heat (season with salt and freshly ground pepper). Slice a few tomatoes ( mine was huge so I only used one) and place them on a paper towel to absorb some of the moisture.

Spread about 1/2 cup ricotta cheese over the dough, top with sautéed onions and arrange tomato slices over top. Drizzle with olive oil, add a little salt and pepper and place in oven. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes. The dough should brown and puff up. Remove from oven and sprinkle with fresh basil.

We had this for lunch with a spinach salad, but it would be a great appetizer too.

Take a look back at some of my other tomato tarts:

Tomato Tart with Gruyere Cheese and Onions

Nicoise Tomato Tart

Slow Roasted Tomato Tart

Tomato Tart with Gorgonzola

Tomato Tart with Savory Crust

Cherry Tomato Tart

It won’t be tomato season but the food will still be amazing:

Panini Girl In Lucca May 2018

***Today is the 10th anniversary of the Panini Girl blog!***

September 30, 2017


End Of Summer Pizza


The calendar may say that October is a day away, but the weather here in southern California is definitely still screaming summer. The farmer’s market is in a state of change with one side of the table covered in heirloom tomatoes and the other end piled high with butternut, acorn and kabocha squash. As anxious as I am to begin preparing meals with fall produce I am holding on to summer as long as possible.


There’s a farm not far from our house that usually displays a huge bag of zucchini blossoms for sale at the market, but it’s been a while since I’ve seen them. I’ve been asking the grower about them for the past month and today there they were. I’ve been thinking about this pizza for weeks so here it is-my ode to summer’s end.

Pizza with Zucchini Blossoms

I spread a thin layer of ricotta cheese over the dough, topped it with sauteed onion, spread zucchini blossoms over top and finished with a sprinkling of crispy guanciale and of course a drizzle of olive oil. Ten minutes in a very hot oven and lunch was served. Buon Appetito!

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September 23, 2017

1 comment

Verdure Agrodolce


This recipe comes from the lovely Gemma, cheesemaker and cook extraordinaire at Cerasa, the farm at the top of a mountain in the Garfagnana. I’ve had the pleasure of enjoying a day on the farm observing Gemma making pecorino and then savoring a home cooked meal in the dining room on three different occasions. Each and every meal has been unforgettable, but this was the first time that verdure agrodolce were served as part of the antipasto.

What I love about this recipe is that you can use whatever vegetables that you have on hand. I added cauliflower (even though it really isn’t a summer veggie) because I  grew up having chow chow, a pickled vegetable mixture that a friend of my mom used to make. It always included cauliflower so I was impelled to include it in the batch I made.

Serve this alongside grilled meat or include with an antipasto platter. You’ll love the slightly sour vegetables, although J. insists that it’s not a great match for the wine you may be drinking. I say then have a bite of cheese too!

Verdure Agrodolce  (Sweet and Sour Vegetables)

3-1/4 lb. seasonal vegetables-zucchini, carrots, bell peppers, carrots, pickling onions, celery

17 oz. white vinegar

8 oz. canola oil (not olive oil)

9 oz. sugar

salt to taste

Combine ingredients in large sauce pan and boil for 8-9 minutes. Allow to cool and place in jar (or jars). Pour thin layer of olive oil on top to seal. Store in refrigerator.


Join the tour and have your own experience on the farm. It’s a day that you’ll remember forever..

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September 2, 2017


Eggplant Rolls With Salsa Verde

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I’ve always been a lover of eggplant, but J., he’s another story. When we first met he proclaimed a dislike for this vegetable and then I introduced him to my eggplant parmigiano. “How can this be eggplant, it tastes too good” he would say. I would smile and serve him up a second portion.

Years later and I’m still looking for ways to win him over to eggplant. These rolls are a nice addition to a summer meal. Make them ahead of time and serve them at room temperature as a side to a meat or fish course.  The little hint of fresh mint is a nice surprise and livens up the cheese mixture.

Eggplant Rolls Stuffed With Feta

1-pound firm eggplant
olive oil for brushing eggplant
3 ounces feta, crumbled (about 1/2 cup)
1/3 cup whole-milk ricotta
1/4 cup fresh mint leaves, washed well, spun dry, and chopped fine
3 red bell peppers, roasted, or two 7-ounce jars, drained, and patted dry
1 bunch arugula or small bunch spinach, coarse stems discarded and leaves washed well and spun dry

Salsa Verde

1 cup packed fresh parsley leaves (preferably flat-leafed), washed well and spun dry
1 small garlic clove
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon red-wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon anchovy paste

In a blender blend salsa ingredients until smooth. (Salsa may be made 1 day ahead and chilled, covered. Bring salsa to room temperature before serving.) This sauce is also perfect drizzled over grilled fish.

Preheat broiler.
Cut eggplant lengthwise into 1/4-inch-thick slices and arrange 6 center slices on an oiled baking sheet in one layer, reserving remaining eggplant for another use. Brush eggplant with oil and season with salt.

Broil eggplant about 3 inches from heat until golden, about 5 minutes. Carefully turn eggplant with a metal spatula and broil until golden, about 4 minutes more. Transfer eggplant to a platter large enough to hold slices in one layer and cool. (Eggplant may be prepared up to this point 3 hours ahead and kept, covered loosely, at room temperature.)

In a small bowl with a fork mash together feta, ricotta, mint, and salt and pepper to taste. Cut peppers lengthwise into pieces about same width as eggplant slices.

Assemble rolls:
Top eggplant slices with pepper pieces, arranging them in one layer. Put 1 tablespoon cheese mixture near narrow end of each slice and into it gently press 2 arugula leaves so that they stick out on both sides. Beginning with cheese end, roll up each slice to enclose cheese mixture and leaves. (Rolls may be made 2 hours ahead and kept, covered loosely, at room temperature.)

***You can also cook the eggplant on the grill, which I usually prefer to do.

Panini Girl In Lucca May 2018 questions or to reserve a spot