Sep 5, 2012

Panini - Origin and Varieties

Although the first U.S. reference to Panini dates to 1956, and a precursor appeared in a 16th-century Italian cookbook, the sandwiches became trendy in Milanese bars, called paninoteche, in the 1970s and 1980s. Trendy U.S. restaurants, particularly in New York, began selling Panini, whose popularity then spread to other U.S. cities, each producing distinctive variations of it. During the 1980s, the term paninaro was used to denote a youngsters' culture typical of teenagers supposed to eat and meet in sandwich bars such as Milan's Al Panino and then in the first US-style fast food restaurants opened in Italy.

A Panini sandwich is a popular type of grilled sandwich made on Italian bread. Technically, the singular form of the word Panini in Italian is panino, which does refer to a stuffed-bread sandwich. However, this type of grilled sandwich is most commonly referred to as a panini, and often pluralized as paninis.

Traditionally, a panini is made by stuffing either a loaf of bread or two slices of hearty bread with meats, cheeses, vegetables and any other additions you choose. Panini sandwiches have become quite popular grilled, though it is not absolutely necessary to grill the sandwich. If you do wish to grill the sandwich, the outsides of the bread may or may not be buttered or brushed with extra virgin olive oil to give it a crispier texture.

A panini press may be used to grill the sandwich, which is essentially a two-sided grill. This method may also be accomplished by placing the sandwich on a grill, pressing down firmly with a spatula, and then flipping the sandwich over and repeating the process. It is relatively easy to make a delicious Panini sandwich.
Of course, you may use any type of bread you want, but it is important to use a relatively dense bread that will hold up well on the grill. Foccacia, ciabatta and sourdough breads are popular, along with herbed loaves of bread. Thick slices of Italian or French bread will also work well. Strongly flavored meats such as salami and prosciutto are often used with cheeses such as mozzarella, provolone or asiago.
If you do not like these particular meats and cheeses, feel free to switch them out for anything you like better. Grilled chicken, turkey and roast beef can also make delicious paninis. Bear in mind that the meat needs to be cooked before being placed in the sandwich -- grilling a panini only heats it through, but does not actually cook anything. After you've selected your bread, meat and cheese, it is time to add extra toppings.

Some popular additions to paninis include spinach, roasted red peppers, basil, olive oil, olives, tomatoes, garlic, balsamic vinegar and oregano. If you wish to swap out the meat and make a vegetable panini, you might use eggplant or zucchini, or any other vegetables you like. A panini is a delicious and filling meal that is simple and quick to make, and can be customized to your heart's content.

Origin of Panini

A survey of historic cookbooks and food articles confirm grilled sandwiches, including those cooked with special apparatus designed for the purpose, have been popular since the dawning years of the 20th century. Electric sandwich makers were just as intriguing to folks in the 1930s are they are today. Recipes varied according to place and taste.

Food historians generally agree panini, as we know them today, originated in the panintecas (sandwich shops) of Italy, perhaps as early as the 1960s. A survey of newspaper articles confirms panini origin caught American consumer attention in the mid-1970s. As time progressed, panini evolved from upscale fare to trendy sandwiches for the masses. Industry experts credit both novel flavor texture and the product's *staying power* (they can be made ahead of time) for panini's success.

In the 1990s, panini nudged its way into family restaurants and institutional menus (colleges, hospitals, airports). Sales of panini grills soared, both commercial and home versions. Of course?

"For centuries bread was the complete meal par excellence, until it became the support or container for a condiment or filling, without losing the identity associated with its linguistic diminutive [panino, diminutive of pane, denotes a sandwich in Itlian--Trans.]"
---Italian Cuisine: A Cultural History, Alberto Capatti & Massimo Montanari [Columbia University Press:New York] 1999 (p. 153)

"Panino..."small bread." Small sandwich. The name was apparently coined at Milan's Paninoteca Bar Quadronno. Panini cresciuti (grown rolls) are fried Sicilian potato rolls containing ham and cheese. From the Latin panis."
---The Dictionary of Italian Food and Drink, John Mariani [Broadway Books:New York] 1998 (p 177-8)
"'Panini' is the Americanized version of the Italian word panino, which means little sandwich and refers to a class of sandwiches that became popular in the United States in the late 1990s. Flavor is the key to panini, which are based on high-quality Italian artisan breads like focaccia or ciabatta. The sandwiches are layered, but not overstuffed, with flavorful combinations of cheeses, meats, or roasted vegetables. Various dressings or condiments are added, and the sandwich is pressed and lightly grilled. Panini-style sandwiches are popular in trendy restaurants throughout the United States."
---Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America, Andrew F. Smith editor [Oxford University Press:New York] 2004, Volume 2 (p. 235)

"[Panini] are said to have originated in Lombardy, Italy, in response to the demand among Milanese office workers for a quick lunch without sacrifice in flavor and quality. In both Italy and the United States, panini are eaten for lunch and as snacks and appetizers. In Italy, sandwich shops traditionally wrap the bottom of the panino in a crisp white paper napkin, providing a practical solution to drips while enchancing aesthetics. Quality Italian bread is an absolute must for a killer panini, and most sandwich chefs will opt for a relatively thin artisan bread like grooved focaccia or ciabatta, slicing it in half horizontally. Panini are always grilled, so most restaurants and cafes have invested in professional grooved sandwich presses that flatten and heat the sandwich while creating a crunch, buttery outer crust."
---American Sandwich: Great Eats from all 50 States, Becky Mercuri [Gibbs Smith:Salt Lake City UT] 2004 (p. 81)

The earliest print reference found for Panini (as a food) in American newspapers was in 1956.

P.S. The above information and pictures are taken from internet from sites such as Wikipedia, Google images and the like.


  1. This is the fourth website I've been to saying the same exact thing.



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