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By the Book: Lisa Caponigri’s Panini di Bietola

September 4th 01:09pm, 2012

Whatever happened to Sunday dinner? That’s the question that Lisa Caponigri poses in her new cookbook by the same name. The book offers 52 multi-course menus – a total of 250 recipes – for the home cook who can eke out a few hours in the kitchen on any given Sunday to prepare an Italian meal for the family.

Among antipasti recipes, Caponigri’s Panini di Bietola, Swiss chard stem sandwiches, grabbed my eye as a creative starter, with a vegetable subbing for bread in a sandwich.

The basic idea is to take steamed Swiss chard stems, sandwich them between a savory breadcrumb filling and pan-fry them. Two aspects, however, make this recipe a bit of a trick.

The first factor is the state of the Swiss chard with which you work. The stems need to be thick enough to hold a filling, which means you’ll need mature chard (something that Caponigri does not state, but which becomes evident when you attempt to stuff the stems). Also, you’ll want to start off with stems that are crisp and dry, since they will undergo steaming, which adds more water content to the vegetable. I would recommend that you avoid purchasing Swiss chard from grocery stores that spray the greens constantly with an automatic water jet; the stems turn limp from being waterlogged. If you don’t grow Swiss chard, try purchasing it from your neighborhood farmers market.

The filling is the other hurdle. It’s quite flavorful thanks to Italian breadcrumbs, garlic and capers, but the only binding is 2 tablespoons of olive oil. While I tried following Caponigri’s directions to stuff the sandwiches and then dredge the stems in flour, there was not enough binding to hold the sandwiches together. I added a beaten egg to the filling, which somewhat fixed the issue. Should I repeat this dish, I think I would opt for extra binding by dipping the stuffed sandwiches in a milk-and-egg batter before dredging them in flour. Also, there was only enough filling to make a dozen sandwiches. Double the recipe if you want to use all 24 Swiss chard stems called for in the ingredient list.

The finished dish tasted great fresh from the skillet, but the sandwiches became limp after a while. So this appetizer is one to bring to the table as soon as it’s ready.

Many avid home cooks yearn to spend hours in the kitchen on the weekend. Alas, laundry, grocery shopping, house cleaning, schlepping kids to soccer games or ballet class and a handful of other to-dos make that four-hour repast over the stove a near impossibility. Caponigri’s premise for her cookbook is that the family that eats together stays together. I’ll accede that. However, a family can eat together without making a five-dish, multi-course meal. But when you do want to go all out, Whatever Happened to Sunday Dinner? offers some ideas for an Italian way to go about it.

Panini di Bietola
12 Sandwiches

24 Swiss chard stems (leaf part removed), cut into 2-inch pieces [Note: The filling only provided enough for me to fill 12 Swiss chard stems.]

½ cup Italian breadcrumbs
2 cloves garlic, chopped [Note: I minced them.]
2 Tbsp. capers
1 cup plus 2 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1 beaten egg [Note: Caponigri’s recipe does not call for an egg but the recipe needs a binder.]
1 cup all-purpose flour
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper

• Steam the Swiss chard stems for 4 to 5 minutes (stems will become slightly translucent). Remove from the steamer and let cool.
• Meanwhile, in a small bowl, combine the breadcrumbs, garlic, capers, 2 tablespoons of the olive oil and 1 beaten egg.
• Season the flour with the sea salt and pepper and pour into a shallow bowl.
• Make a little sandwich with 2 pieces of the Swiss chard stems by stuffing them with some of the filling. Dredge the stems in the flour, tapping off any excess and set them on a tray. Repeat with the remaining stems and filling.
• In a large skillet, heat the remaining 1 cup olive oil over medium-high heat. Fry the little sandwiches in the hot oil, in batches, turning once until golden on each side, about 2 to 3 minutes per side. Transfer them with a slotted spoon, as cooked, to paper towels to drain. Serve immediately.

Reprinted with permission from Sterling Epicure

What is your favorite dish to serve for a Sunday Supper with the family? Tell us in the comments section below for a chance to win Whatever Happened to Sunday Dinner? by Lisa Caponigri. We’ll announce the winner in next week’s By the Book column.

And now, unfortunately, we don’t have a winner to announce for last week’s By the Book. Guess our question of how you like to cook with eel was a bit too tricky. And so, another way to win last week’s book, Cooking Without Borders by Anita Lo: Tell us about your favorite sea creature to cook with and why in the comments section here. We’ll announce the winner in next week’s By the Book column.

By Ligaya Figueras

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2 Responses to “By the Book: Lisa Caponigri’s Panini di Bietola”

  1. Lizzie Says:
    September 11th, 2012 at 10:42 am

    I’ve been meaning to try Swiss Chard – I’ve heard a lot about the health benefits. This seems like a creative spin on it! Thanks for the tips!

  2. Frances Says:
    September 11th, 2012 at 11:25 am

    I like our “traditional” Sunday dinner of roast beef and gravy, roasted fingerling potatoes, brussel sprouts, and various other roasted vegetables. And homemade salted caramel ice cream for dessert!

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