An Ode (or Two!) to California

by on March 25, 2008

Well, if I could dare to play around with PB&J, I may as well tackle the other “acronym sandwich” – the BLT! Bacon, lettuce and tomato is a pretty perfect combination as is, for sure. But for my continuing series, Panini Happy Classics, I thought maybe I could make it extra-perfect with a little panini-style variation. Want to skip ahead? Click here for the final recipe.

California BLT Mini-Panini – Attempt #1

  • Bread: Sourdough, cut into circles
  • Meat: Pancetta
  • Cheese: Goat cheese
  • Condiments: Mayonnaise
  • “Goodies”: Baby spinach, cilantro

THE INSPIRATION: I don’t know why I’ve become so bacon-obsessed lately. When you look at the “Browse by Topic” section on these two blogs, “bacon panini” stands out with the most recipes. I think it’s the result of having been raised on Sizzlean (“Move over, bacon!”) and finally having the chance to appreciate the real thing. One thing I’ve noticed – if a recipe calls for pancetta, rather than bacon, it somehow sounds a little less Denny’s (no offense!) and a little more refined. Call it the Giada effect – with proper Italian accent, of course 🙂 So in contemplating a variation on the good ol’ BLT, I looked to pon-CHET-tah for some inspiration. I was kind of admiring its spiraly round shape and I thought of how cool it might look with a nice round slice of bright red tomato. Then I thought, “What if it were on some circular bread?” Instead of serving one large sandwich and cutting it in half, a serving would be two round “mini-panini”. Before I knew it, I was dreaming up sandwich ingredients based on their shapes in addition to their flavor.

One additional source of inspiration: my home state of California. If you recall, a while back I set out to create a panini recipe inspired by San Diego. Well, that one didn’t quite work out as planned (ended up as a Caribbean tribute!), but I promised to give it another try someday. Well, that day finally came last week when I decided to make a California-style BLT. California BLTs usually include avocado, so that was a given. Going along with the circular theme I thought about nice little rounds of goat cheese as well. And, of course, the San Francisco Bay Area native in me had to put this all on some good sourdough bread.

THE PREPARATION: To get my sourdough into nice little circles, I took one of my tumbler glasses and traced it with a paring knife. The edges came out a little jagged, but the general round shape was there. Since I was making a bunch of sandwiches for testing, I pretty much blew through an entire loaf of sourdough, punching out a hole in each slice! I felt a momentary wave of guilt over the prospect of such wastefulness until my mom, in town visiting from New York, suggested freezing the excess bread (of which there was a lot) to make croutons. Perfect! So that’s exactly what I did. Mom is always right 🙂

While I was punching out my sourdough circles, I had the panini grill heating up to 375 degrees. I’ve decided I want to use the grill for prep as much as possible for these panini (as opposed to the stove or oven) – it really is quite a versatile machine. Once it was heated, on went the pancetta. I must say, a grill is great for cooking bacon (those who have been cooking bacon on their Foreman grills can attest) – most of the grease slides on down the ridges and collects in the drip tray. Not only is it easier to clean up, it’s got to be somewhat healthier – at least I choose to believe it does.

I’d never actually cooked pancetta on its own before (just diced it up in other recipes) so I was a little surprised to see how much those little spiraly circles shrink up. I guess I should have known, given how American-style bacon shrinks. Oh well, I could still keep them for my round theme – I’d just need two slices instead of one. The more the merrier!

THE CONSTRUCTION: I brushed a little olive oil on what would be the outer sides of my sourdough circles. Then on the inside I spread a thin layer of mayonnaise and topped it with two slices of pancetta, a thin slice of tomato, two slices of avocado, a slice of goat cheese and the top sourdough circle. Grilled for about 4 minutes until the bread was nice and toasty.

Then – here’s a new trick – I turned the sandwich upside-down, removed the bottom bread, inserted some baby spinach and cilantro (my “L” in this “BLT”) and closed the sandwich back up. I just saw this recommendation for how to keep greens from wilting when you’re grillling on a Food Network special recently. Had to update my Panini 101 article with this new tip- there are now 8 Tips for Making Great Panini!

THE RESULTS: Mmmmm! Like I said before, bacon, lettuce and tomato is a pretty perfect combination. I was slightly concerned that using both goat cheese and avocado would make things too mushy, but it wasn’t at all. The creamy-tanginess of the goat cheese melded well with the salty pancetta and bright tomato and cilantro flavors. The extra crunch of the olive oil-brushed sourdough also helped to make this a very satisfying sandwich. Mom and Dad (who have rather discerning palates!) really enjoyed it.

Since I had VIP taste testers in the house and I wanted to offer them more than one sandwich variation to try, I went ahead and did an Attempt #2. But I’d call Attempt #1 a success!

California BLT Mini-Panini – Attempt #2

Now, we liked the goat cheese and the pancetta on my first California BLT but I was curious to see if we might prefer going a slightly more traditional route, with swiss and American-style bacon. So for Attempt #2, I swapped out the goat cheese and pancetta and held everything else the same.

THE RESULTS: Great too! The swiss and American-style bacon definitely produced very different flavors. For starters, American-style bacon is smoked while pancetta is not, so there was now a smoky taste in the mix. Swiss cheese melts a bit better and had a larger “footprint” on the sandwich than the goat cheese did so Attempt #2 was a cheesier sandwich.

We really were torn as to which we preferred – both were really good, for different reasons. So for the final recipe I’m offering both variations.

Get the final recipe!

Check out more from the Panini Happy Classics Series:

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>Traveling to a new city soon? Browse Panini Happy’s Great American Sandwich Guide to find the best sandwiches across the country!

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Elle March 26, 2008 at 1:54 pm

Those both look fantastic! Great ideas.

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2 PaniniKathy March 26, 2008 at 7:15 pm

Thanks so much! Your Fresh Summer Salad sounds like it would be a perfect complement – I added a link to it as a Panini Pairing on the final recipe!

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3 Katy March 26, 2008 at 8:47 pm

no question that these both would be delicious! my favorite sandwich on earth was a BLT when I was little, and I know I never had one as good as these!

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