This week I made Italian-focused sandwiches that aren’t a traditional Italian sub—because I’ve already covered those. More specifically, I lasered my focus to entirely Italian-ish ingredients and attempted to craft them into one sandwich with cohesive flavor. I figured I would pull back the curtain a little and write about some of the behind-the-scenes action that occurs when I’m planning out a new sandwich.
The sandwich we’re making today: panino con prosciutto e pesto su ciabatta
SPOILER: I used Google Translate to figure this out.
My sandwich strategy
When I’m trying to come up with a custom sandwich for this blog, I typically try to think of covering the normal bases that sandwiches typically have. I feel that most sandwiches need some type of bread, a protein (typically meat), a cheese selection, a vegetable, and a sauce. Of course, I’m aware that not all sandwiches cover all these bases and there are also sandwiches out there with things like 4 different cheese choices or 3 different vegetables, but to keep things simple, these are the five buckets that my mind tries to fill when I’m planning out a new sandwich.
1 I started with the idea of ciabatta since I hadn’t made any in a while. I made my ciabatta recipe a bunch of times back when I posted it, but I haven’t baked any since. Well, now I’ve made it a bunch of times again just to get things exactly right—don’t be surprised if you see another ciabatta recipe soon, I can’t help it. Once I had my Italian-focused bread decided on I move on to the meat.
2 When I quizzed her about what she would put on a ciabatta roll with an Italian influence, my wife suggested prosciutto, and then she immediately mentioned cantaloupe. I highly considered this combination but figured it could wait until cantaloupe season (which I know is in the summer since my first job was picking cantaloupes and watermelons as a kid). I stuck with prosciutto though and started thinking of options that would go with that.
3 The next thing I felt needed to be covered was cheese and if we are staying Italian focused, I had many options. I could have gone with Parmesan or provolone. But instead, I settled on fresh mozzarella. Mozzarella contributes massive creaminess to any sandwich, and I think prosciutto could benefit from that.
4 Arugula came into my sandwich idea as the vegetable component. I went toward arugula because it’s the most Italian-y green that I’m aware of. Arugula isn’t primarily an Italian-only green—it’s found all over the Mediterranean—but for this sandwich, it’s purely Italian and you can’t convince me otherwise!
5 I figured that instead of simply dressing the arugula with oil and vinegar, I could just dress it with a more exciting sauce and pesto came to mind. Pesto typically combines a nut, a green leafy herb, olive oil, and seasonings. These would dress or compliment the arugula very nicely, so pesto was added to the sandwich plan.
I also added a “wild-card” second sauce to this sandwich, but we can talk about that later.
You can use the navigation below to jump to particular parts of the sandwich components.
Bread: ciabatta sandwich rolls
I’ve written about this ciabatta recipe on the blog for my porchetta sandwich post, and it works out great for sandwiches. It’s light, yet the crust is firm and crisp, and the crumb is chewy. The light part happens because your dough has been given a lot of time to rise and a few slap-and-fold actions to increase the gluten. The crust of the ciabatta sandwich roll is crisp because the dough is sprayed with water prior to baking. This water creates steam in the oven which helps the bread to rise and the exterior crust to firm and becomes slightly crunchy. And the chewiness happens mostly because we’re using high-protein bread flour instead of all-purpose. The protein helps add gluten and chew to the final rolls.
For these ciabatta rolls, you stretch out the dough after an initial rise and cut the dough into pieces. This does leave you with finished rolls that aren’t super tall. But that’s not the point here, with a chewy roll you do not need a whole lot of extra height.
Meat: prosciutto and salami
You can use any cold cut in this sandwich, but since I wanted to focus on Italian offerings, I primarily went with prosciutto and salami. Please be aware that these two types of meat are fairly salty, so you should keep the salt in check in the other sandwich ingredients if you can. Typically, I suggest dressing the greens in your sandwiches with salt and olive oil or another dressing, but in this case, I do not suggest adding additional salt in this way.
These meat options aren’t super cheap, but as I said, you can just grab some regular ham or even deli-sliced turkey and build a version of this sandwich.
Cheese: fresh mozzarella
I’ve made mozzarella a couple of times at this point in the development of this blog and I decided that it’s probably not worth the hassle. The effort involved and the ingredients you need to purchase means that homemade mozzarella is too expensive for me in both my time and financially.
Buy fresh mozzarella in the ball shape and slice it as thinly as you can and that’s what I did in this sandwich.
If you’ve never had arugula, it’s peppery. Not so much that you’ll taste the spice, but it does contribute a flavor that is like how ground black pepper smells. Arugula is a thin leaf, but in this sandwich that has ingredients that have very little in the way of texture, you will find that arugula when piled up, does show up with a small bit of crunch.
A lot of lettuce or greens are lacking in flavor, but arugula asserts itself even through the other components in this sandwich.
I love pesto. It’s fantastic on a sandwich. This recipe is easy, quick, and packs a lot of punch.
Pesto will start to change from a vibrant green to a browner shade of green quickly. It’s kind of like guacamole in this regard. I typically will place a small piece of plastic wrap on the surface of the pesto to try to keep the oxygen off the surface. But I have read that you can also do the same thing with a thin sheen of olive oil on the top. The best piece of advice to avoid pesto turning brown would be to use a tall, thin jar or container to store the pesto which gives it the least amount of surface area you can. This helps to prevent discoloring because you will notice below the surface all the pesto keeps the original green color.
Wild card: Calabrian chili mayonnaise
I made some of this for another sandwich a few weeks back. The idea came from JT’s Genuine’s pork and greens sandwich, but since I was focusing on Italian ingredients here, I felt it made a lot of sense.
There’s not much to this “recipe.” I just use a 3-to-1 ratio of mayonnaise to crushed Calabrian chili peppers. This mayo isn’t super spicy, but it has a kick that comes through nicely in this final sandwich.
If you’ve never had them, Calabrian peppers seem to remind me in some ways of pimento peppers that are used in pimento cheese, except those have very little spice. Calabrian chili does have a spicy kick, but it’s backed by a recognizable red pepper flavor that you might remember from your last pimento cheese sandwich.
Wrap your sandwich
I’ve written about this a lot of times, and it really comes into play in this type of sandwich. Wrap it up in parchment or wax paper after you make it and give it a couple of minutes to rest. Wrapping helps everything to come together and it forces the sauces to squish around and into the bread and other ingredients.
Wrapping the sandwich also keeps the sandwich from getting messy, but this particular sandwich really didn’t need that help.
Prosciutto and pesto sandwich recipe
Here are some photos of this sandwich with the recipe down below.
This is a super flavorful Italian-focused experience that hits all the notes required of a fantastic deli-style sandwich.
Ingredients:Walnut basil pesto
- 3 to 4 ounces fresh basil (about 2 cups)
- 1⁄4 cup chopped walnuts
- 2 garlic cloves
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2⁄3 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1⁄2 cup grated parmesan cheese
- black pepper to taste
- 6 tablespoons mayonnaise
- 2 tablespoons crushed Calabrian chilis
- ground black pepper (optional)
- 1 Ciabatta roll
- Calabrian mayonnaise (from above)
- 3 to 5 prosciutto slices (or other deli sliced meat)
- 2 slices of fresh mozzarella
- arugula (at least a quarter cup)
- pesto sauce (from above)
Walnut basil pesto: add basil, walnuts, garlic cloves and salt to a food processor or blender. Pulse to combine.
When things are chopped well, start slowly adding your olive oil while the processor/blender is running on low. This starts to form an emulsion and gives you the consistency you would want.
When the pesto is smooth and has a thickened consistency, remove from processor/blender to a bowl add parmesan cheese, and stir.
Taste the fully combined pesto and add any additional salt and pepper that you think it might need. Store in the fridge for a few days.
Calabrian chili mayonnaise: in a medium bowl add mayonnaise and crushed Calabrian chilis and whisk to combine. Taste and add a pinch of ground black pepper if desired.
Store in a sealed container in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.
Sandwich assembly: slice your Ciabatta rolls.
Add a generous portion of Calabrian chili mayonnaise to the bottom of the roll. Top that with a few slices of prosciutto.
Top the meat with slices of fresh mozzarella and top the cheese with a handful of arugula.
Spread pesto on the top part of the roll and close the sandwich.
Serve and enjoy.
Make this sandwich!
Check back next week when I’ll be making a sandwich, but I’m not sure which one yet.