Breakin’ in the grill pan


A miraculous Sunday morning off.

On a standard Sunday morning, I would be explaining to students what well creamed butter feels like, the variance of flours, the properties of eggs.

But today I got to go to the adult swim at Jefferson Park, help Todd christen his new grill pan, and lounge on his preternaturally comfy couch.

Todd wanted to do fish tacos, which I have been resisting but will surely give in to someday.  “Nothing from the sea” is my motto.  One of my co-workers made an amazing Thai-influenced flounder last night, but I’m still not sold on fish in my off time.  Todd had pork chops around again. Done and done.

He rejected Mexican.  He rejected Barbecue.  Thankfully, he agreed to Italian.

So I figured I would riff off the pasta sauce I made for the Napoleons, since there was much more than was needed for that recipe.

Parmesan Pork Panini with Grilled Vegetable Salad

We started with the vegetable salad so it would have time to hang out and marinate while we prepped the sandwiches.

1 eggplant, cut into 1/2 inch rounds
1 large zucchini, cut into 1/2 inch rounds
2 red bell pepper, roasted and medium dice
1/2 lb button mushrooms
1/2 medium yellow onion
Olive oil, salt, pepper, and balsamic vinegar to taste.

Preheat grill pan on medium.  The grill would be even better.  A garden variety pan would suffice.

First I filled his baking pan with olive oil.

Eggplants are sponges.  Drizzling is not going to do it.  They need to take a lil’ dip.

Though these were going on the grill, we found some olive oil on sale, and I figured that these would soak up enough of the flavor to make olive oil worth using.  Normally I would use veg or grapeseed oil on things going on the grill pan.

Once they were salted and oiled on both sides, I put them on the grill.

When they were marked,

I flipped them and continued to cook them until they were tender.

This recipe calls for a medium dice, but if you’re presenting
grilled eggplant whole and want those lovely hatch marks, you could give them a quarter turn.

We seasoned and grilled the zucchini and onion.

For the onion, I keep the root end attached.  That keeps it all together on the grill so I’m not chasing pieces with my tongs.  Easier to flip.

Same procedure with the mushrooms.  We used oil but you also could brush them with white wine to keep them from drying out if you happened to have some around.  Or beer.  Beer and mushrooms are deeply in like with each other.  I’m pretty sure I caught them passing notes in homeroom.

While the other vegetables were cooling we roasted some red bell peppers.

Once the veggies were all marked, grilled to tender, and cooled, I did a medium dice on everything and mixed it all together with a couple splashes of balsamic.  Even though I seasoned each vegetable before grilling, except for the peppers, it needed some salt.  I added a pinch or two and let it marinate.

Then we continued on to the

Parmesan Pork Panini

Pork chops (bone in has more flavor, boneless is easier to slice)
Fresh mozzarella, @ 3 1/2″ slices per sandwich
Fresh grated parmesan, @1/4 cup per sandwich
Tomato sauce
Garlic oil (recipe to follow)
Whole grain Italian bread
Salt and pepper to taste

First we seasoned the pork chops with just salt and pepper, and grilled them on medium.  These were pretty thin, so I’d say 3 minutes on the first side, two minutes on the second side, give or take.  Until they were mostly firm to the touch.

I didn’t bother with the crosshatching because we sliced them – thin against the grain on the bias.

While the pork was resting we made the garlic oil.

Just a couple of cloves in some oil on low for a few minutes.  I didn’t even take the root end off.  I flipped the cloves after a few minutes, but if you had a smaller pot and more garlic, immersing the cloves would be fine. Once the oil was infused, we just removed the garlic and tossed it.  You could save it to spread on bread if you liked, especially if you immersed your garlic.  Ours got a little browned for that.

We dipped the bread in the oil, on each side. And grilled them.

Ours were getting too roasty toasty on the grill because somebody had the heat up too high (stares up at the ceiling innocently).  It’s plausible that a couple of slices of bread were lost.  Along with their delicious, delicious garlic oil.  Oh sure, we could go around placing blame, pointing fingers, but I think it would be more productive to the grieving process to fast forward right to acceptance and move on.

So the second time (ahem), we just grilled some oiled bread on each side.

We put the fresh mozzarella and parmesan on the salvageable garlic-oiled pieces and popped them under the broiler briefly to melt.

In theory, you could melt the cheese on the grill.

By the way, I know it seems like a lot of cheese to put on this sandwich.  It is.  But the recipe is pretty lean otherwise and needed some fat for mouthfeel and satiety reasons.  You could cutback if you wanted, though I would cut back the mozzarella instead of the parmesan.  The parmesan is needed for salt and flavor.

Once the bread was done, and the pork rested and sliced, we assembled.

I ended up eating this open face in two halves.  The top one was full of garlicky cheesy pork-filled crispy tangy tomato sauce goodness.  Chicken would also have been great in place of the pork, or meatless altogether.

I piled the salad on the bottom half of the panini, and, lo, it was full of grilled vegetable crispy bready goodness and that goodness went forth among the people and… alright, I’m overselling.  It was hardly biblical, but, hot damn, it was good.

Both were totally different experiences.  I would do each separately next time.  (Perhaps with some home-made potato chips?)  I was quite thankful that we had gone swimming beforehand because I certainly wouldn’t want to be seen in a bathing suit for a while after that meal.

It took me almost two hours to recover enough to have dessert…If you know me, you are currently impressed.

Mango Pineapple Smoothie

3 Mangos, diced
2 ounces orange juice
1/4 – 1/2 cup pineapple (we just used canned because none of the ones in the store seemed ripe enough.  I recommend fresh if you can.)
2 tablespoons yogurt
1/4 banana
Pinch of salt

When picking mangoes, I look for ones that have some red on them, but aren’t all red/orange in color, and give just a little when I push on them.  Mangoes will ripen after they’re picked, but we couldn’t wait.

I cut off the cheeks and fingers with a chef’s knife, but I switch to a butter knife when removing the flesh from the skin so I can get every last bit without endangering myself.

I suck the core too.  Don’t judge.  I offered one to Todd.  He said, “Uh, no thanks,” which means, “You’re gross.”   I don’t care.  Mango rocks my world.

We put the mango chunks in the freezer while we ate so that our smoothies would have a more milkshake-like feel.

The only trick is sometimes the blender needs liquid to catch, so put the orange juice in before the fruit.  I didn’t and ended up stopping the blender and pushing down the mango flesh a couple of times.  P.I.T.A.  (pain in the a**)

Blend, taste, adjust.

That’s it.

I could barely finish two sips.  I’m pretty sure I’m not an imposter. It was still me.

That panini is just downright dangerous, friends.

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