Big Girls, Test Kitchen: A Classic Panino

DISH: Prosciutto & Fontina Panini with Arugula Pesto and Pickled Shallots
MAIN INGREDIENTS: Ham & Cheese, Ciabatta

I ate many variations of this panini while studying abroad in Italy, but when it came time to create comfort sandwiches in my own small kitchen, I always came back to the classic combination of prosciutto and fontina cheese. Sometimes I would add peppery arugula to give it some bite. But I found that the ultimate complement was a smooth, creamy arugula pesto that leaks into all the notches of the bread and some sweet pickled shallots to give the sandwich a kick of acidity without overpowering the delicate ham and cheese.

When Food52 announced that their latest weekly contest was “your best Ham & Cheese,” this was certainly the sandwich that came to mind. Much to my delight, Amanda and Merrill were similarly psyched about the combo, and chose this recipe as one of the finalists – one of those recipes that will appear in their project’s final product, a book. (For those of you who have yet to check out the site, and others who have already logged on to support Cara’s Blueberry Tart which was ROBBED of its gold medal in the Best Fruit Tart contest, this is my call to action to get on there and VOTE for my panini.)

I appreciate – in advance – all the support from you readers who will head to Food52, check it out, and ensure that this sandwich will soon be coming to a bookstore near you.

From my kitchen, where I shamelessly vote for myself, to yours,



Prosciutto & Fontina Panini with Arugula Pesto and Pickled Shallots
Makes 4 sandwiches


For the shallots:

¼ cup cider vinegar
2 tbsp sugar
½ tsp salt
1 large shallot, thinly sliced

For the sandwich:

1 loaf ciabatta, sliced lengthwise
1/3 lb prosciutto (about 10 slices)
1/3 lb fontina, thinly sliced

For the pesto:

¼ cup toasted pine nuts
2 garlic cloves
2 cups arugula
½ lemon, juiced
1/2 tsp salt
¼ cup olive oil

Bring the cider, sugar, and salt to a boil in a small saucepan over a medium flame. Simmer for a minute, until the sugar has dissolved, then pour over the hot liquid over the shallots in a small bowl or jar so they are fully submerged. Allow to sit for 20 minutes, then place in an airtight container until ready for use. This can be done up to a week before.

In a small food processor, pulse the pine nuts and garlic until coarsely chopped. Add the arugula, lemon juice, and salt and pulse to combine. Stream in olive oil and continue to blend until all the ingredients are finely chopped and the pesto is smooth and creamy. Taste for seasoning and add more salt if necessary.

Preheat the broiler.

Place the two slices of bread crust side down on a baking sheet and toast in the oven for 3-5 minutes, until beginning to crisp but not totally browned. Slather the bottom half of bread evenly with pesto and arrange the cheese slices in a single layer. Return just this slice of bread to the oven and continue to toast until the cheese has melted, about 3-5 minutes.

Slather the other slice of bread with the remaining pesto and arrange the pickled shallots on top, followed by the prosciutto. Sandwich the halves together.

Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Depending on the size of your pan and the size of the ciabatta, you may have to cut the sandwich in half like I did. Set the sandwich top side down in the pan and weight it with a smaller skillet and/or a heavy bowl (see image above) so the bread is crushed and flattened as it toasts. When the bread has browned, repeat on the other side. When finished, the panini should be browned, crisped, and flattened, and should have cheese oozing from it. Toast the remaining half (if necessary), and then cut it again to create four sandwiches.


  1. Goodness that looks good. Paninis sometimes get so dry especially with as much bread as a ciabatta. Thank god for pesto (how did you decide on arugula over basil?). Will go and vote for you!

  2. Love, love fontina cheese!! So tasty! Just stumbled upon your blog & love the cooking in small kitchen concept. Not that you have a choice 😉

  3. Thanks everyone for voting!

    Kathy, I like the peppery quality of arugula in my sandwiches, but when it comes to really melty ham and cheeses, I don't like to over complicate things–the crispy, crunchy element of texture can come from the ciabatta. But I really like what the flavor of arugula brings to the table, which is why I used it in the pesto instead of regular old basil. I'm sure standard pesto would still taste amazing though, just a little sweeter 🙂

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