Ciao'd over This Is Us.

First, I need to get something off my Italian culinary chest, and it's this: one Italian sandwich = panino. Two Italian sandwiches = panini. And please, on the Pope's zucchetto, do not ever, EVER, utter "paninis."

Now that we've cleared that up, you can join me in rolling your eyes at restaurant menus and huffing at friends who are clearly not as urbane as you. 

Panini are simply Italian sandwiches made with crusty bread such as ciabatta, michetta, or baguette, filled with deli ingredients, and toasted. Often, they are pressed on a warm grill. 

No worries if you don't have a panini press. You can grill the sandwich like an American grilled cheese or, if you want the pressed effect, use a pot lid and press the sandwich as it cooks. I make panini in a cast iron grill pan and press it with a soup pot lid once or twice as it cooks. 

Panini make a nice lunch, but they are equally delish for dinner, served with a salad or soup. Kids love the oozing melted cheese and crunchy, toasted bread but, then again, who doesn't?



I love the combination of smoky ham, nutty Fontina, and earthy fresh sage melting into each other in this satisfying sandwich. Choose a crusty, country bread like ciabatta whose dense crumb will stand up admirably to the filling inside. 

Makes 4 sandwiches = 4 panini

8 large slices coarse country bread, each about 1/2-inch thick
6 ounces Fontina cheese, sliced
4 thin slices smoked ham such as Black Forest
2 teaspoons chopped fresh sage
Extra-virgin olive oil

Place four of the bread slices on a work surface. Divide the cheese evenly among them and top each with a slice of ham. Sprinkle evenly with the sage. Top with the remaining bread slices.

In a large heavy skillet over medium high heat, add enough olive oil to coat the bottom of the pan (if using a grill pan, brush generously with the olive oil). When the oil is hot, place the sandwiches in the pan without crowding (you may have to grill them in two batches). Cook, pressing down with a pot lid or metal spatula, until golden brown, 2 to 3 minutes. Flip the sandwiches and add more oil to the pan if necessary to prevent scorching (the pan should not be dry). Cook, pressing down on the sandwiches again, until golden brown on the second side, about 2 minutes more. Cut the sandwiches on the diagonal and serve at once.