I have been to Italy three times, all before the age of 13 so my memories of the boot-shaped country are blurry and a little lost. Smell is supposed to be the number one trigger of a memory and I absolutely agree with that. But when smell, sound and taste are combined, they paint a picture for your sight and you can practically place yourself into the memory, even if you can’t actually see it in your mind.
When I step into Pappalecco, the smell of espresso, the sound of the milk frother and the taste of saltiness that touches your tongue seem to make my faint memories wobble from the back part of my brain into the forefront.
Pappalecco has two locations in San Diego. One in Hillcrest and another in Little Italy. Everything about the cafe feels authentic. The glass displays contain perfect little pre-made sandwiches and delicate pastries and cookies. There are mounds of creamy gelato and the employees all greet you with an enthusiastic “Ciao!”
Now I’m not writing this post to talk about teenage Lanie and her adventures in Italy, but about a beautifully complete panini. Panini’s have become a popular concept among restaurants and cafes and I have had my fair share. This panini however, is by far my favorite.
The Melanzana contains prosciutto, grilled eggplant, fresh mozzarella, basil, and an herbed aioli. The ingredients inside are pressed together and each of the different flavors are blended to make each bite perfection. The saltiness of the prosciutto combined with the stringy texture of the eggplant is balanced by the creamy mozzarella and the fresh taste of the basil. The whole panini is drizzled with a sweet balsamic reduction that really brings the whole dish together. The rich inside of the panini are paired with a crusty bread that really makes the sandwich stand apart from most impostors. It is not spungy like most panini’s but rather crunchy and chewy in all the right parts. Before placing the panini in the press, they brush the outside with oil and dust it with salt and freshly cracked pepper which is my favorite part. It gives you an excuse to lick your fingers at the end of the meal because, what’s the point of eating with your hands if you can’t enjoy every last taste.
FoodNetwork is inspiring. In a “let me run to the grocery store and buy all these ingredients I’ve never heard of and I’ll never use again” way. You walk down the aisles picking up spices and piling things into your cart, racking up a bill that doubles the price of any main dish at that fancy restaurant down the street. But you have encompassed a new Emeril Lagasse complex and, shit.. that fancy restaurant will want to hire you after they taste this fabulous meal your about to cook up.
So I tell this tale from experience. I have read many recipes and have been entranced by pretty women cooking even prettier meals on TV. This is exactly why tonight I’m making homemade tomato sauce.
Yup, it was Giada, she made the sauce on her show and sang her recipe lullaby making sure to say a few choice words with an italian accent and well, that was enough for me. Her rolling r’s tapped into my Italian side and I got the itch. Oh not only did I buy all the necessary spices but thought I’d DOUBLE the recipe to save for later because this sauce is going to be better than any Prego or Barilla, so clearly we have to have at least a couple of months supply.
I don’t wanna pat myself on the back but if I was double jointed..
The sauce tastes good! Not only good, really good. Enough to make any italian proud. I had a great time cooking up the fancy pants ingredients and taking tastes all along the way. I was up to my ear lobes in canned tomatos and garlic and I even whipped out the food processor. The recipe called for chicken broth but I always cook with wine.. I even add it to the food. With my few personal touches, I can call the sauce my own. And I better because I will be eating it from now until winter.
When all was said and done, the big test was having my boyfriend Charlie test it out. He ate his entire plate which honestly, I can’t even take as a compliment because he eats most everything that is set in front of him. But when he started sliding his finger across the bottom of the bowl with no sense of manners or decency to capture every last bit of the sauce, well, I knew I had done ok.