Friday, May 22, 2015

Prosciutto Caprese Panini with Parmesan Focaccia

I'm off to buy some famous prosciutto in Parma!
Ciao! I left Paris on a 10 a.m.”flight” after a few magical days, and I arrived shortly in Parma, Italy two hours later. This historic city in Northern Italy is well known for its cheese, especially parmigiano reggiano, and its meat, specifically prosciutto, a type of Italian ham.

I knew I wanted to use both of these traditional savory ingredients, and when I figured out that part of my family actually comes from Parma, I was even more excited to “visit” the area and explore my heritage.

When I “reached” the city around 12 p.m., I was starving and ready for il pranzo (lunch). In most European countries, lunch is the formal meal of the day, and Italy is no exception. Traditionally, the meal begins with a starter, un antipasto. A first course, un primo, follows, and then a second course, un secondo. As people now have less time for lunch breaks, lunch is often not as structured or homemade. Instead of savoring a formal, sit-down affair, many workers grab a quick meal in a restaurant, then head back to the office.

With these changes in mind, I wanted to blend care and tradition with efficiency and simplicity in my ambitious Italian dish. I baked some homemade parmesan focaccia bread to use in my take on a quick, flavorful caprese panino, which has many classic Italian flavors and ingredients, including spicy basil pesto, salty prosciutto, and gooey mozzarella cheese. Squisito!

I hope you enjoyed this savory lunch. Join me in India next week for some sweet dessert!

Parmesan focaccia:

1 package fast-acting active dry yeast
1 cup warm water
6 tbsps extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1 tsp salt
2¼ cups all-purpose flour
½ cup parmesan cheese
2 tsps sea salt

Caprese panino:

8 slices prosciutto
1 cup arugula
4 oz fresh mozzarella cheese
1 beefsteak tomato
½ cup mushrooms


2 cups fresh basil
¼ cup pine nuts
2 cloves of garlic
½ tsp red pepper flakes
1 tsp salt
½ tsp pepper
1 tbsp lemon juice
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 tbsps parmesan cheese

1. Whisk the yeast with the warm water and let it stand for a few minutes, then whisk in 2 tablespoons of olive oil, ¼ cup of parmesan, and salt. Next, use a wooden spoon to stir in the flour until the dough comes together.

2. Place the dough on a floured surface, dust it with more flour, and knead for a few minutes until the dough is soft and smooth. Drizzle and coat the dough with 1 tbsp of the olive oil, and knead until it is incorporated. Repeat this step two more times (three times total).

3. Place the dough into a bowl with 1 tbsp of olive oil and turn it to coat. Cover the bowl loosely with plastic wrap, and let it sit for around 30-45 minutes until the dough has doubled.

4. Drizzle a sheet pan with more olive oil, and place the dough on the pan. Press the dough into a rectangular shape and cover the pan loosely with plastic wrap. Let the dough sit for 15 more minutes.

5. Then, drizzle another tablespoon of olive oil onto the dough and spread it all over. Press your fingers into the dough to make dimples all over the surface. Sprinkle the parmesan cheese over the dough. Let it rise until it has doubled again, about 20 more minutes.

6. Preheat oven to 475 degrees F. Bake the focaccia loaf until it is golden brown (about 10 minutes). Sprinkle with sea salt, and let it cool.

7. While the focaccia is baking and cooling, prepare the other ingredients for the panino. Sauté the mushrooms in butter, and slice the tomato and the mozzarella.

8. To make the pesto, combine the basil, pine nuts, garlic, red pepper flakes, salt, pepper, and lemon juice in the food processor. Slowly add in the olive oil while pulsing. Once it is all incorporated, spoon the pesto into a bowl and mix in the parmesan cheese.

9. Slice the cooled parmesan focaccia loaf, and then load up some slices with the pesto, prosciutto, mozzarella, tomato, arugula, and mushrooms. Cook it in a panini press, or place it on a grill pan and press it down with a heavy pan for 2-3 minutes on each side, until the mozzarella is melted.

How incredible does this look? Buon appetito!

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