In Lieu of Holiday Baking

December 19, 2007

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If you’re like me, you will soon be heading out of town: through the woods, to grandmother’s house you’ll go. We are headed to my parents’ house in Minnesota for Christmas on Friday. If I had it my way, I’d be spending every last moment in the kitchen before I left baking holiday treats. Not only would I bake a plethora of new selections and old favorites, but I’d package them up and send them across the country to friends and family who I won’t see over the holiday.

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But since I clearly do not have time for such an endeavor—not with a First Amendment exam later today and my last exam on Friday, my time in the kitchen has been spent focusing on a far less festive and decidedly less glamorous task: emptying out the fridge.

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While I’d love to share with you photos of a lovely array of cookies and candies, bars and biscotti, it’s just not happening. There’s always next year. And I can rest assured that my mom will have freshly-baked spritz cookies, my grandparents will arrive bearing addictive peanut brittle, caramel corn and “party mix” (the Chex Mix people should really call my grandma and grandpa for their recipe) and my step-father will have visited his favorite Scandinavian shops for the most delicately gorgeous krumkake.

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Instead, I will have to share with you a dinner that will have you leaving for the holidays guilt-free: empty-out-your-fridge panini. I originally anticipated that this dinner, which we enjoyed last night, would involve homemade bread—ciabatta to be exact. But when I didn’t get around to looking at recipes until midday yesterday (Oh, the starter for ciabatta has to be made 24 hours in advance? Oh, some recipes call for special tiles to line your oven?), I had to abort that plan. Good thing we live near some excellent bakeries.

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So, we took our fresh-from-someone else’s oven bread, slathered it with pesto and piled it high with mozzarella slices and Italian cold cuts (both left-over from a recent antipasto platter) on one half, and with roasted vegetables (cleaned out practically an entire drawer of the fridge!) on the other. A turn in the panini press later, we had ooey-gooey deliciousness. And the panini were almost as satisfying as an nearly-empty fridge.

Pesto Spread

1 cup packed fresh basil leaves
1/4 cup freshly-grated parmesan cheese
1/4 cup crushed walnuts
1 garlic clove
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
salt, pepper and red pepper flakes (to taste)

In the bowl of a food processor, pulse the basil, parmesan, walnuts and garlic, until the mixture resembles a thick paste. Scrape down the sides of the food processor bowl. While processing, stream in the lemon juice and enough of the olive oil to create a thick spread. Season the pesto spread to taste with salt, pepper and red pepper flakes.

Panini

1 loaf ciabatta
1/2 cup pesto spread (see above)
1 large ball of buffalo mozzarella, torn or sliced into rounds
Assorted Italian cold cuts (such as salami, capicola, sopressata)
Roasted vegetables (such as 4 Roma tomatoes, 1 red onion, 1 zucchini, tossed in olive oil, salt and pepper and roasted at 425 degrees for 30 minutes, or until browned)

Preheat a panini grill over medium-high heat. Slice the ciabatta in half lengthwise. Slather the top half of the ciabatta with pesto. Line the other half of the ciabatta with the torn/sliced mozzarella. On top of the mozzarella, pile one side with the Italian cold cuts and the other side with the roasted vegetables. Place the pesto-ed half of the sandwich on top of the meats and vegetables. Slice the sandwich in half to separate the meat side and the vegetable side.

Either one at a time or together (depending on the size of your grill), grill the sandwiches until lightly browned. Let the sandwiches cool slightly. Slice the sandwiches into thin fingers (a medium sized ciabatta will yield eight pieces) and serve.

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