The 2006 Winter Olympics in Torino, Italy, are in full swing on televisions all across America. I love how the cameras put viewers like us in the middle of the action, as if we're standing on the sidelines as a skier comes racing by. Amid the thrills, there's one thing we miss out on, and that's the mouthwatering smells and tastes of the local food enjoyed by spectators throughout the event.
So this year, I decided to make the Olympics a "total" cultural experience and create a taste of Italy by preparing panini, Italian for "sandwich." But hold the pickles, lettuce and mayo! Italians are known to love their panini with a drizzle of olive oil, balsamic vinegar or pesto on the bread. They add good meat and cheese, and then toast it on an electric grill. The heat intensifies the flavors and creates diagonal grill marks on the outside of the bread.
To create the same taste and effect, we make our panini on the stove with a basic grill pan and press them with a brick covered in tin foil. If you don't have a brick, set another heavy skillet on top of the sandwich with soup cans to weight it down as it heats through.
To get you started, here's my simple, basic traditional recipe for 4-5 panini that kids will love:
1 loaf of good Italian bread, such as ciabatta or focaccia
Extra-virgin olive oil
20 fresh basil leaves
4 ounces thinly sliced prosciutto (optional)
4 ripe tomatoes, sliced
8 ounces fresh mozzarella cheese, sliced 1/4 inch thick
Slice bread for 4-5 panini, then split each one in half horizontally. Drizzle bottom cut halves with olive oil and stack with basil, prosciutto, tomatoes and cheese. Top with bread.
Set panini on a heated, nonstick grill pan. Set bricks covered with tin foil on top to compress the panini. Grill until cheese softens. Flip over and toast on second sides, again with bricks on top.
Set on a plate, and let yourself be transported to Torino as you take your first bite.
Write Donna with your questions and ideas at www.donnasday.com. Donna's latest book, "Donna Erickson's Fabulous Funstuff for Families," is available in bookstores nationwide. © Donna Erickson, Dist. by King Features Syndicate