While it totally irks me that what is in essence a tapenade in this preparation is being called a pesto when there is nary a leaf of basil or a clove of garlic to even begin to lend itself to the attempted yet inappropriate use of the word, the utter genius of these little sandwiches all but makes up for that transgression.
Delectably salty, crispy-crunchy, hot and oily in all the right ways, these panini are going to be recurring guests in my kitchen. One was the perfect dinner (a small salad of soft greens and halved grape tomatoes would have dotted the i most pleasingly) for me last night, but you could also halve or quarter each panino and serve them as a snack with your aperitivo.
The recipe comes from 'Ino, the adorable little sliver of a wine bar and restaurant in the West Village, where I've happily eaten many a sandwich and enjoyed the hustle and bustle around me. Two of 'Ino's recipes were printed in the New York Times Magazine a few years back, when the panino craze was sweeping restaurants and kitchens nationwide.
Unwilling to add another appliance to my collection, I bought a small grill press at my trusty Chinese restaurant supply shop yesterday, and turned my cast-iron skillet into a panino press. I used a spoon to smooth the olive mixture onto each bread slice, and my hands to carefully mound the tuna-caper berry mixture onto each panino.
A few minutes under the grill press (with a little added pressure from me that made the oil sizzle appetizingly on the hot iron), and we were ready to eat our crusty meal. The olive-tuna combination is as old as the Nicois hills, but it's always delicious. Especially when spiked with lemon zest and hot pepper flakes (not enough! be sure to add more), those artful slices of caper berries and a splash or two of Champagne vinegar.
The bread squashed itself into a perfect brick - the crust as crackly as can be, the interior barely, faintly moist. I can't wait to have another for dinner tonight.
Tuna with Black-Olive-Pesto Panini
Yields 4 panini
For the pesto:
1 cup Gaeta olives, pitted
10 caper berries, stems removed
1 lemon, zest and juice
1 cup olive oil (I couldn't stand using this much)
For the panini:
1 6-to 8-ounce can Italian tuna
6 caper berries, stems discarded, sliced into thin disks
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon Champagne vinegar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Pinch red pepper flakes
4 ciabatta rolls
1. Combine the pesto ingredients in a food processor; blend until just a bit chunky.
2. Combine the tuna, caper berries, olive oil, vinegar, lemon juice and pepper flakes in a bowl and toss. Split the ciabatta rolls in half and use 2 tablespoons of the pesto to spread on both halves of each roll. Place 1/3 cup of the tuna mixture inside.
3. Grill in a preheated sandwich press, or a George Foreman grill until nicely browned, 3 to 6 minutes. Serve warm.