The panini, the small sandwich from Italy, made its U.S. debut in the 1970s and quickly took the deli streets by storm. Only a decade later, youngsters’ culture made panini a daily must and earned their generation the title paninaro, meeting and hanging out at sandwich shops such as Milan’s Al Panino.
With so much interest by an influential and young generation, paninaro culture went mainstream, getting adopted by family and commercial menus. Family restaurants, hospitals, colleges and even airports added panini to their menu, and the sandwich has maintained leading status in delis since.
The classic Italian panini fillings are as follows:
- Mozzarella, tomato (possibly add arugula and prosciutto)
- Prosciutto and fontina cheese
- Prosciutto, cheese, and olive tapenade
- Bresaola, goat cheese or stracchino (possible add lettuce and tomato)
- Speck (smoked cured prosciutto), arugula and cheese
- Grilled vegetables and cheese
Bread is a key defining factor of the panini. The bread used to bookend the meats, cheeses, and veggies in a panini is never sliced bread, that’s what gives the panini its not-so-small fluff factor. Big, durable breads like baguette, ciabatta, sourdough, and michetta are cut horizontally to house to the panini ingredients.
The beloved toasty, coined in America the panini, is reveled in its many forms, but its most popular style treats foodies to the buttery crisp of the panini press. The bread choice for paninis makes it easy to grill the sandwich without breaking or crumbling.
Many paninis are served hot, either directly from the grill or by using a special panini press, a device made just for paninis that have been popular since the 1990s. If you make your own paninis at home, be mindful that warming or grilling the panini does not actually cook the ingredients inside; it just heats them up into a gooey goodness for your tum. If you stuff your paninis with meat such as chicken or bacon, you must first cook the meats all the way through.
We have been able to popularize the toasted version of the panini thanks to Thomas Edison. That’s right, the panini press made it possible to brown both slices of bread at once, as opposed to grilling one side and then flipping to brown the other. Edison approached sandwich making like the revolutionary he was and invented the press all the way back in the 1930s. As mentioned, the device did not earn popularity amongst home chefs until decades later. By this time, Edison’s contribution had been forgotten and instead the panini press by Breville won fame. If you ever take a day trip the museum at Thomas Edison’s winter estate in Fort Myers, FL, you can see his sandwich grill on display.
In Italy, paninis are wrapped from their mid-point down to provide a mock burrito casing for the ingredients that threaten to drip right from the bottom of the sandwich. Many chefs and sandwich makers in the U.S. continue to wrap paninis, partially for purpose of function and partially for aesthetic appeal.
Paninis were once a fancy, upscale food choice that thankfully became popularized and available to the masses, including all panini lovers in Ironside Pizza. In the United States, we see a few major differences in the creation of the sandwich, including:
- More than one type of meat
- A lot of meat (In Italy, a few slices are used at most)
- More than 3-4 ingredients
- Dressings such as oil or vinegar (In Italy, dressings are only for salads)
- Sauces such as barbecue, spicy mayo, and honey mustard
At Ironside Kitchen, we offer the freshest, most authentic Italian dishes with a delightful American twist. Come visit our east side pizza place in Ironside for a taste of Italy, a full tummy and an unforgettable dining experience.