For Italians, there are two panini that are coveted above all others. Indeed, possessing one of these majestic “sangwiches” in high school would create quite a predicament: being forced to share, being bribed, or somebody making you an offer you couldn’t refuse were just some of the tight spots the hungry students would find themselves in. One of these is the breaded veal cutlet panini and the other is the meatball panini.
I began to think about this when someone told me that the meatball recipe below made too many meatballs, (as if there were such a thing as too many meatballs) I reminded this poor, deluded fellow that he could freeze them, but here’s another option just in case your freezer is full.
Fig 1. Like we used to say at school, "that's nu bell panino"
One round Italian “pagniotta” bread
20 slices of provolone cheese
10 to 11 meatballs (depends on the size of the bread) with some of the tomato sauce (see recipe below)
1 cup of pickled vegetables (such as Valli or Aurora)
10 large basil leaves
4 tablespoons of mayonnaise
1 tablespoon of red wine vinegar
Cut the bread in half separating the top and bottom. Scoop out some of the soft part of the bread from both pieces being careful not to get too close to the crust. (Use the bread for bread crumbs, or make a nice panzanella salad). Leave a 2 cm rim of bread around both bottom and top parts of the bread. Layer the sliced provolone on the bottom part of the bread. Add as many meatballs as you can fit and drizzle with some of the tomato sauce-not too much or the bread can get soggy. Add the pickled vegetables and the fresh basil over top. In a bowl whisk the mayonnaise and red wine vinegar until combined and spread over the top part of the bread. Wrap the whole thing tightly with plastic wrap and place it in the fridge for a few hours (or even overnight) with a weight on top-this step helps keep the meatballs in place when it comes time to cutting the sandwich, there’s nothing more annoying than loose balls. (I use a same-size pan topped with two cans of tomatoes. Be careful not to make it too heavy or the bread can begin to break.) Eat cold or if you prefer it warm, put in a preheated 300 degree oven for 20 to 30 minutes.
Note: You can change anything in this sandwich except the meatballs. I also make it with spicy marinated eggplants and roasted peppers. Use your imagination.