06 June 2009

Slinging hash: panini with chocolate and fontina

It is high time I told you about my favorite sandwich, the one I have not been able to stop eating for several months now. It may seem a little complicated or intimidating, because it starts with No-Knead Bread, but bear with me; it's easy, I swear.

I have long had an interest in bread baking. It began when I was in graduate school, and there was no place to get decent bread. Actually, it probably began in my youth, as I have always found playing with dough of any kind—from playdough to a basic mixture of flour and water—to be immensely satisfying.

I got so into bread making that I began to cultivate wild yeast spores to make starter. Yes; you can really do this, in your own kitchen! I even briefly contemplated becoming a baker, when it became clear to me that I didn't really want to be an academic, but the hours are shitty, and I moved to Brooklyn, and then Montclair, where good bread abounds, had a few kids, and for years, I stopped baking bread.

If you follow food news at all, or if you've stood next to me on the playground for any length of time, or dined at my house, you will have heard about No-Knead Bread, because I don't shut up about it.

Many, many pixels have been devoted to this recipe in the food blogosphere since Mark Bittman published the recipe in his Minimalist Column three years ago.

To sum up: No-Knead is a long-rise, virtually no work method developed by Jim Lahey of Sullivan Street Bakery, for making the most beautiful, professional looking, delicious bread you have ever tasted. Aside from the long rise, what is revolutionary about the recipe is that you bake it in a pre-heated covered pot, which duplicates the results of professional steam-injected ovens, giving you a thin, shattering crust, as opposed to a thick, overly toothsome one that will ruin your expensive dental work.

It took me a few years, but last winter, I finally bought an inexpensive dutch oven from Ikea, and got around to making it. If you have never baked bread before, and are at all curious about it, I urge you to try it; it is very hard to mess up.

To make a short story long(er), I had a dinner party last winter, for which I baked this bread, and cut more than we ate, so in the morning I had a few staling slices lying around. I could have toasted them, but I decided to make a variation of the Taleggio and Pear Panini from Giada's Kitchen. It was very good, but what surprised me most was how fantastic No-Knead Bread is when grilled. This bread is delicious on it's own, but there is some alchemy that happens when you grill it, which gives it the most pleasingly springy texture.

From there, I was off on a panini kick, which led me to try another recipe from Giada's Kitchen, for Panini with Chocolate and Brie, except I didn't have Brie, I had fontina cheese. And it was so very, very good, that I have been eating it happily, several times a week since then, for breakfast, or lunch.

I eat this so often, and with such gusto, that in my haste to get the kids off to school I have neglected to check my face before leaving the house, and Sarah, my 10 year-old, has occasionally had to tell me to clean the chocolate off of my face.

How is that for role reversal?

Chocolate + Fontina Panini

You do not need to bake your own bread for this sandwich; any good crusty loaf will do.

You also do not need a panini press; a cast iron pan or heavy skillet, plus a spatula, and a bit of muscle does the trick.

Heat a skillet, preferably a cast iron pan on medium heat.

Cut 2 slices of a good rustic loaf.

Drizzle one side of each slice with a bit of olive oil and lay both slices oil side down in the pan.

Place a few thin slices of a good melting cheese—I've been using a Val D'Aosta fontina, but there are tons of good candidates—on one slice of bread, to cover.

Place a few squares of dark chocolate on top of the cheese. Sprinkle with a bit of coarse salt.

Once the cheese and chocolate begin to soften and get a bit oozy, top with the second slice. Use a spatula to press down on the sandwich a few times. When the bread crisps and browns a bit, and the filling is sufficiently melted, remove from pan, cut, and eat.

Messy, delicious.


  1. I also LOVE the no-knead pot bread. So effortless to do. We almost always have left over the next morning - I will have to try this panini. How can it be bad, 2 of my favorite things - cheese and chocolate.

  2. Sheila, it is reassuring to know someone else who bakes this! Usually it makes people nervous when they hear you bake bread. Or they think you are a freak.