I promise not all of these recipes will involve puff pastry! Since I had a sheet of puff pastry left over from the Apple Turnover Panini effort, I thought I’d try one more variation – a savory, calzone type. Now that I know that puff pastry will work on the panini grill, I decided to play more with the flavors this time around. Want to skip ahead? Click here for the final recipe.
Spinach Ricotta Panini – Attempt #1
- Bread: Puff pastry
- Condiment: None
- Cheese: Ricotta
- Meat: Prosciutto
- “Goodies”: Spinach
THE INSPIRATION: Calzones – good calzones. Growing up, I never even heard of calzones until my sophomore year of high school when my family moved to Connecticut. The school cafeteria served these huge lard-laden (it seemed!) golden mounds of crust stuffed with ricotta cheese alongside the fries as a daily option. It was labeled a “calzone.” When I finally mustered up the courage to give it a try, my fears were confirmed – it was nasty. Even my 15-year-old sense of nutrition knew I shouldn’t put something like that in my body! However, I strongly suspected that not all calzones were as uninspired as those in the caf. Fortunately, I did not give up on them and have since discovered that “real” calzones – with balanced flavors and textures – are terrific. And so, in the name of “good calzones”, I attempt a calzone panini!
THE PREPARATION: I thawed a 10-oz package of frozen chopped spinach in the microwave (finally figured out how to use those automatic features!), then drained it in a colander and squeezed out as much water as I could.I transferred the spinach to a medium bowl and combined it with a 15-oz package of part-skim ricotta cheese, a pinch of nutmeg, 1/2 teaspoon of garlic powder and 1/2 teaspoon of dried oregano leaves. I transferred half of the mixture to another bowl so I could test different flavors in Attempt #2.
Continuing Attempt #1 with half of the original mixture, I added 1/4 teaspoon of sea salt.
THE CONSTRUCTION: I floured my thin cutting board, rolled my thawed puff pastry out to a 12″ x 12″ square and divided it into 4-6″ x 6″ squares. Then I lay a slice of prosciutto (left over from “Chicken, Prosciutto & Asiago – Attempt #1) diagonally across one of the squares. I spooned 3 tablespoons of the spinach mixture on top of the prosciutto, in the center of the square, and rolled the ends of the prosciutto around the spinach mixture.
Next, I dipped a finger in water, wet the edges of the pastry and folded the pastry in half over the prosciutto and spinach mixture, forming a triangle. I folded up the edges to seal.
Then the panino went on the panini press – I lowered the top grate to the 3rd position above “low” to make good contact with the pastry without flattening it. Grilled for 12 minutes, topped with some jarred marinara from Dean & DeLuca.
THE RESULTS: Okay, but not great. The prosciutto was just too overpowering – we (my husband and I) couldn’t taste the spinach at all. It just tasted salty. Also, the pastry came out a little too light, not flaky enough – most likely because the press height was too high. No worries, that’s why we experiment!
Spinach Ricotta Panini – Attempt #2
Prosciutto was out. Now the objective was to enhance flavor by some other means, ensuring to preserve the spinach-iness. I decided to add 1/4 cup of shredded parmesan cheese to the other half of my original spinach mixture for better flavor and to get more of that stretchy-cheese texture. I didn’t add any salt this time since I thought the parmesan might contain enough.
I also brought the height of the panini press down to the 2nd-from-the bottom setting for better grill coverage.
THE RESULTS: Better! Not surprisingly, the panino came out a touch thinner this time, due to the lower press height. But the pastry was cooked more thoroughly and evenly. The taste was definitely improved, we could taste the spinach and it wasn’t too salty. On the contrary, the pendulum may have swung a little too far to the other side – it wasn’t quite flavorful enough! Then I remembered my “silver bullet” from the Chicken, Prosciutto and Asiago trial – pesto spread.
Spinach Ricotta Panini – Attempt #3
I stuck with the spinach mixture that contained the parmesan but this time I spread a layer of pesto spread on the uncooked puff pastry before adding the spinach mixture. The hope was that the basil and garlic flavors would be just the right addition to punch up this panino without overpowering it.