I ate many variations of this panini in Italy, but when it came time to create comfort sandwiches in my own kitchen, I always returned to the classic combination of prosciutto and fontina cheese. Sometimes I would add peppery arugula to give it some bite. But I found that the ultimate compliment was a smooth, creamy arugula pesto that leaks into all the notches of the bread, and a scattering of sweet pickled shallots to give the sandwich some acidity without overpowering the delicate ham and cheese. - BigGirlPhoebz —PhoebeLapine
Test Kitchen Notes
A sophisticated sandwich with a couple of extra steps that are simple and totally worthwhile. BigGirlPhoebz has you make an arugula pesto (she calls for baby arugula but good, meaty leaves from the Greenmarket worked well, too) that's garlicky and nutty, and pickle some shallots. Together these condiments add depth and brightness to the rich fontina and prosciutto. - A&M
Make the pickled shallots: bring the cider, sugar, and salt to a boil in a small saucepan over a medium flame. Simmer for a minute, until the sugar has dissolved, then pour the hot liquid over the shallots in a small bowl or jar so they are fully submerged. Allow to sit for 20 minutes, then place in an airtight container until ready for use. This can be done up to a week before.
Make the pesto: in a small food processor, pulse the pine nuts and garlic until coarsely chopped. Add the arugula, lemon juice, and salt and pulse to combine. Stream in olive oil and continue to blend until all the ingredients are finely chopped and the pesto is smooth and creamy. Taste for seasoning and add more salt if necessary.
Preheat the broiler. Place the two slices of bread crust side down on a baking sheet and toast in the oven for 3-5 minutes, until beginning to crisp but not totally browned. Slather the bottom half of bread evenly with pesto and arrange the cheese slices in a single layer. Return just this slice of bread to the oven and continue to toast until the cheese has melted, about 3-5 minutes.
Slather the other slice of bread with the remaining pesto and arrange the pickled shallots on top, followed by the prosciutto. Sandwich the halves together.
Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Depending on the size of your pan and the size of the ciabatta, you may have to cut the sandwich in half. Set the sandwich top side down in the pan and weight it with a smaller skillet and/or a heavy bowl so the bread is crushed and flattened as it toasts. When the bread has browned, repeat on the other side. When finished, the panini should be browned, crisped, and flattened, and should have cheese oozing from it. Toast the remaining half (if necessary), and then cut it again to create four sandwiches.
Phoebe is a writer, gluten-free chef, culinary instructor, award-winning blogger, and author of The Wellness Project. You can find her healthy comfort food and gluten-free finds on www.FeedMePhoebe.com