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Authentic Southern Italian Cuisine
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The Great Italian Sandwich

July 6, 2013 Carlino's Restaurant no comments
"The secret to a great panini lies in the pressing"

“The secret to a great panini lies in the pressing”

The sandwich may have taken its name from an English earl, but the concept of wrapping delectable cured meats, cheeses and vegetables in bread reached its zenith in the hands of Italian cooks. Italy’s great salumi tradition and wealth of fantastic cheeses made sandwiches a natural evolution for Italian diners who wanted something to eat on the go. As Sicilians and Italians came to American shores, they brought their fondness for hand-held feasts with them, leading to unique regional delights.

Italian Subs

The classic sub, zeppelin or hoagie is so closely identified with its Italian origins that it’s called an Italian sandwich in many parts of the country. The Italian loaves used for sandwiches typically don’t contain eggs, so they have a crisp crust rather than the tender surface of a hamburger bun or roll. Italian cured meats, including salami, prosciutto, pepperoni and mortadella, complement a slice or two of creamy provolone or mozzarella. Think of an Italian sub as an antipasto plate on crusty Italian bread, and you’ll be right on target.

A classic Italian sandwich often has brined pepperoncini peppers along with the usual lettuce leaves and tomato slices, but toppings have as many regional variations as there are sandwich lovers. Some sandwich lovers prefer a drizzle of olive oil to marry the flavors and keep the bread from becoming soggy where it touches juicy tomatoes. Others prefer a dash of garlic-infused vinegar to add a bright tanginess to the sandwich. Some purists reach for both in the form of Italian dressing as a condiment.

Hot Italian sandwiches are like an Italian meal on bread. Veal parmigiana, meatballs and eggplant are just a few of the dishes that lend themselves beautifully to sandwich fillings.


In Italian, the word “panini” means “little bread” and refers to any sandwich on a traditional Italian small loaf such as ciabatta. Typically served hot, the Italian panini is only lightly pressed and grilled to melt the cheese and meld the filling’s flavors. In Italian restaurants in America, a panini might be served Italian-style or pressed and grilled more firmly into a compact shape that concentrates its vibrant taste.

You can order just about anything on your panini, but don’t skimp on the cheese. A pressed, grilled sandwich is at its best when the cheese inside it melts and fills every available space between layers of roast pork or bites of juicy marinated chicken. The melted cheese also holds the sandwich together nicely, making it easy to fit into a busy day. You may not have time to savor a traditional Italian sub sandwich with its thick, crusty bread and flavorful oil, but a panini’s slim profile fits easily in your hand when you’re eating on the go.

Regional Favorites

Throughout parts of the northeastern U.S., Italian sandwiches are synonymous with peppers and sausage. A typical sausage and pepper sandwich can be stuffed with freshly made sausage like our house-made Italian sausage or with a cured sausage variety, but it always has heaps of sauteed sweet peppers and onions. With the addition of an egg or two, a sausage and pepper sandwich becomes a classic weekend breakfast item.

In New Orleans, the Sicilian community developed its own  Italian sandwich, the muffuletta. The name comes from the round bread that forms the foundation of the sandwich, but the truly special part of the sandwich is the pungent, briny olive salad atop its layers of mortadella, salami and provolone. Workers who wanted a hearty lunch originally ate each element of the meal separately, but they quickly found that piling everything onto a round of bread transformed a simple lunch into a delicacy. While muffulettas are hard to find outside of their birthplace, topping an Italian sub with olives, peppers, onions and celery will give you a taste of this Sicilian treat.

Chicago’s contribution to the illustrious history of Italian sandwiches is the Italian beef sandwich. Loaded with chopped, seasoned roast beef and topped with pickled Italian peppers and vegetables, the Italian beef sandwich grew from the Windy City’s thriving beef processing industry. Italian workers bought inexpensive cuts of beef and made them delectably tender with long, slow cooking. The easiest way to eat the juicy meat was on a long Italian bun.

Try something better than a burger for lunch and go Italian with a panini or a meatball sub. No matter how you like your Italian sandwich, it’s authentic to somewhere.

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