In Italy, a Sandwich Spree


Photo by Faith Willinger

I bumped into Alessandro Frassica, owner of 'ino, a fantastic shop in Florence that specializes in gastronomic products and quality panini, at a wine tasting at Castello di Ama. I mentioned that as an American, I had lots of sandwich experience, which, combined with my born-again Italian approach, could result in some interesting panini. We set a date for a lunchtime tasting in my kitchen.

I prepped in the morning. Grilled red radicchio. Tiny leaves of lacinato kale (the lateral shoots that sprout from the stalk after the main part of the plant is cut) slowly cooked with minimal extra virgin olive oil in a nonstick pan until lightly brown and crisp, like chips. Sautéed broccoli greens with garlic and chili pepper.

Alessandro was very enthusiastic, adored the kale sprout chips, and made me promise to have an event with a menu of my panini at 'ino.

I also made a frittata with wild greens and Parmigiano. I braised chopped leeks in olive oil until tender, then dressed them with Villa Manodori balsamico. I made mayo by whisking my best extra virgin into commercial mayo (it's filled with emulsifiers and easily absorbs more oil) and stirred in Dario Cecchini's mostarda. I sliced smoked scamorza, and I used a potato peeler to make slim, easily melt-able strips of Parmigiano. Opened a can of tomato filets from Gerardo di Nola, better than winter tomatoes. Sliced bread. Warmed a piece of schiaccata (Tuscan focaccia).

Alessandro showed up with salame rosa from Pasquini, "better than prosciutto cotto," he claimed. And creamy robiola cheese and ciabatta bread, which I sliced horizontally and warmed in the oven. I started to assemble panini. Here's the lineup.

    • Ciabatta with robiola and lacinato kale shoot chips
    • Ciabatta with robiola and sautéed broccoli greens, garlic, and chili pepper
    • Ciabatta with salame rosa, chopped radicchio, tomato filets, and mayo with Dario's mostarda
    • Schiacciata with cicerbita (wild greens) and Parmigiano frittata
    • Ciabatta with shaved fennel, chopped red onion, fennel pollen, anchovies, extra virgin, and Moro orange (left over from my Sicilian red orange test)
    • Tuscan bread with Parmigiano, braised leeks, and Villa Manodori balsamic vinegar, sautéed (in my nonstick pan) with extra virgin olive oil (would work well with a panino press, but I'm not about to purchase one)
    • Tuscan bread with grilled radicchio and smoked scamorza, sautéed
    • Tuscan bread, with Parmigiano and salame rosa, sautéed with Dario's burro del Chianti

Alessandro was very enthusiastic, adored the kale sprout chips, and made me promise to have an event with a menu of my panini at 'ino. Sounds like fun. I'll let you know when it happens. For now, he's written about our lunch on his blog.

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Faith Willinger is a chef, author, and born-again Italian. She moved to Italy in 1973 and has spent over 30 years searching for the best food from the Alps to Sicily. More

Faith Heller Willinger is a born-again Italian. She moved to Italy in 1973 and was seduced by Italian regional cooking. Faith has spent more than 30 years searching for the best food and wine, as well as the world beyond the table from the Alps to Sicily. She has no regrets about mileage or calories. Faith was awarded the prestigious San Pellegrino award for outstanding work as an ambassador of Italian cooking. She lives full-time in Florence with her Tuscan husband, Massimo. Her son Max lives in Milan. She's the author of the bestselling (9th printing) guidebook Eating in Italy, the cookbook Red, White & Greens, and the narrative recipe book Adventures of an Italian Food Lover. Faith teaches in her kitchen in Florence on Wednesdays, supplied with freshly picked produce from her favorite farmers. Check out her web site at
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