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Giada’s Mozzarella, Raspberry and Brown Sugar Panini, Plus a Great Food Gal Giveaway

I’ve been rather obsessed with this crisp, sweet-savory sammy ever since channel-surfing one day and catching Giada De Laurentiis making it on her Food Network show.

But the problem was that my panini press went kaput awhile back.

Oh, I know I could have used a frying pan with a weight on top of the bread instead, but it’s just not quite the same, if you know what I mean.

So, when the good folks at Calphalon offered me the chance to test out their electric panini grill, I leaped at the chance. Of course, you know the first thing I made with it, too.

Yup, De Laurentiis’ childhood panini that her mom used to make for her after school or as dessert. Imagine two slices of artisan bread smeared with raspberry jam, piled with milky mozzarella slices, a sprinkle of sea salt and a flurry of chopped fresh rosemary. The piece de resistance? Brown sugar sprinkled on the very top of each sandwich, so that when the sandwich goes into the panini press, it melts and caramelizes, forming a sugary, crisp crust. Now, you know why I’ve lusted after this sandwich.

It’s pure gooey comfort between two slices of bread. The sprinkle of salt and the fresh rosemary really make it special and keep it from verging into cloying territory. So, do not leave those two ingredients out.

I used slices of a sweet batard loaf and cherry jam, since a jar was already open in my fridge. I can see this working with a wide variety of jams and herbs: marmalade with fresh thyme or strawberry and tarragon, perhaps.

It makes for a decadent but deceptively simple breakfast or lunch.

Want to try making it, yourself? I’ll give you a hand:

Contest: One lucky Food Gal reader will win a Calphalon electric panini grill (valued at about $100). The panini grill features variable temperatures and grill heights to accommodate any size sandwich. The grates wipe clean easily after use, too. Entries, limited to those in the continental United States, will be accepted through midnight PST July 14. Winner will be announced July 16.

How to win?

As you contemplate what sandwich you would press first inside your spanking new panini grill, tell me what “impresses” you most these days. Best answer wins.

Here’s my own answer:

“Great manners. I don’t know if it’s the dawn of the Internet, which has negated so much face-to-face interaction these days, but I find that good manners are a rarity. How sad is that? To receive even the briefest ‘thank-you’ after helping someone with a problem, answering a sticking question for them, or even holding the door for someone coming my way just doesn’t happen very often now. So much so that when I actually come across someone who does utter those kind words of gratitude it almost throws me for a loop. But fortunately, it also gives me hope that not all is lost in the world.”

Mozzarella, Raspberry and Brown Sugar Panini

(Serves 4)

8 (1/2-inch thick) slices bakery-style white bread

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

1/2 cup raspberry jam

2 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary leaves

8 ounces (2 balls) fresh mozzarella, drained and patted dry

Kosher salt, optional

2 tablespoons light brown sugar

Preheat panini press.

Using a pastry brush, brush the bread on both sides with the oil. Spread one side of each slice of bread with raspberry jam. Sprinkle rosemary over the jam. Cut mozzzarella into eight slices. Place two slices of cheese on four of the bread slices. Season the cheese with a pinch of salt, if using. Place remaining slices of bread on top, jam-side down. Sprinkle the tops with the brown sugar. Press in the panini press for 3 to 5 minutes until cheese has melted and the bread is golden and crispy.

Cut panini in half and serve.

From Giada De Laurentiis and the Food Network

Winner of the Previous Contest: In last week’s Food Gal contest, I asked you to tell me how you’re like a “chip off the old block.” The winner will receive four small (1-ounce) bags of the new “Hawaiian Kettle Style Mango Habanero!” chips.

Congrats to:

Natalie, who wrote, “To say I am a ‘chip off the old block’ is an understatement. As teenagers, we misleadingly cringe at the possibility of turning into our parents. Now in my mid-twenties, this inevitable realization is more of a pleasant epiphany than a dreaded nightmare. I can go on and on about how my mother’s high-pitched, billowing laugh eerily resembles my uncontrollable shrills (it has gotten me many a dirty looks at restaurants and movie theaters), or how my dad’s lack of common sense apparently doesn’t fall far from the tree (both of us literally walking into an arrest scene without even noticing almost gave my mother a heart attack, but made for a good story later). But since we are on the topic of food, I will limit myself to these similarities. My dad and I are very competitive, and every chance I get, I challenge him to a cook-off. Though he has many extra years under his belt, I have the ego of a well seasoned chef. Ultimately, he ends up ‘winning’ since I just started cooking a few years ago, but the tips he shares and the time with him I get to spend are truly special. Now for my mom. If it’s one thing that she can’t stand, it has got to be people ‘picking’ at food. I am very guilty of this and would rather pick all day instead of have actual meals. This drives her bonkers. But every now and then, when she thinks nobody is looking, I see her creep into the kitchen, carefully open the refrigerator door, and start nibbling on some goodies: a little swab of the icing, a tear off the rotisserie chicken, a spoonful of the mashed potatoes. I guess I really did “get it from my mama.”

More: Make Marmalade in the Microwave in Minutes

And: Meyer Lemon and Vanilla Bean Marmalade

And: Fig Compote