Last week, the Underground Gourmet recommended Zingerman's Reuben sandwich kit as the perfect holiday gift for the sandwich nut on your list. This week — in acknowledgement of the fact that even Kate's Paperie cannot wrap a Reuben sandwich well enough so that placing it beneath a Christmas tree for several days would not run the risk of Taco-Belling the giftee — the UG has come up with a superb alternative gift idea. It's the new book, called Simple Italian Sandwiches (HarperCollins; $21.95), by Jennifer and Jason Denton, and it requires no refrigeration. As anyone who knows anything about Italian sandwiches is aware, Jason Denton is to panini, bruschetta, and tramezzini what Masa Takayama is to sushi, sashimi, and Kobe sukiyaki. The Dentons opened the West Village panini parlor 'ino back in 1998, and it's fair to say that they started the whole local craze for delicately balanced, deceptively simple Italian sandwiches, and that no one outside of the Boot does a better job of it.
Their breezy, informative tome, including a foreword by Mario Batali ("I can safely say that I've eaten every single dish in this book …") reveals all their sandwich-making secrets, from the bread (cut off the top dome of your ciabatta for a perfect bread-to-filling ratio when pressing; Arnold's Brick Oven White is an excellent tramezzini substitute when you can't get your hands on a boutique bakery Pullman loaf) to the condiments (a little softened butter at the end of the pesto-making process works wonders). All this, and they even give up the recipe for 'ino's much talked-about truffled egg toast.
As a bonus, Ms. UG, who yields to no one in her ingenious gift-giving abilities, suggests placing the book inside a brand-new Denton-sanctioned Delonghi panini press, thus effectively creating a gift within a gift and saving yourself the chore of having to wrap two packages. And, who knows? You may just get a nice pressed panino out of it. — Rob Patronite and Robin Raisfeld