Ladies and gentlemen. Once I spoke to you in words lent urgency by true passion; inspired by the muse of culinary finesse. Once I spoke, o faithful friends, of the noble Battenberg.
Since then, howsoever, my blogged gustatory rhapsodies have taken a downward path.
Just as economists and stock marketeers eagerly anticipate the moment at which the recessionary plunge levels off – the point from which the only way is up – just so is it my hope (my fervent, ardent hope) that today's post marks the 'bottoming out' of this trend of culinary mediocrity.
For today, my friends, I blog of the Panini.
Now, before I start, I'd like to clear up one thing. I realise that the Italian word 'panini' simply means something along the lines of 'little bread'. And that, by this token, a great many fine dough-based entities might legitimately go by the name.
I speak not of these fine dough-based entities.
Instead, I speak of the very specific dough-based entity that has come to be denoted by the word panini here in the United Kingdom (and possibly – who knows? – further afield. International readers, do send your favourite panino snaps and help us find out.)
Here – below – is an image that may give you a flavour of the ballpark in which we're operating.
(With apologies to Panini on the Park, whose appealingly-depicted product I'm not entirely sorry never to have sampled.)
Panini: The Case Against
There was a time – remember it? – when a panino may have seemed a little bit cosmopolitan. A little bit urban. A little bit sophisticated. The conoisseur's alternative, mayhap, to a bacon sarnie. The lunchtime treat for the self-indulgent lover of luxury.
That was 1990.
Nearly two decades later, I think we may safely dispense with any faint remnant of panini glamour. Go back, in other words, to the bacon sarnies.
For a British panini, as dispensed in virtually any sandwich shop or cafe over the length and breadth of this sceptred isle, is a sad and tawdry thing.
More processed than a Ronan Keating greatest hits compilation (and, depending on your choice of filling, potentially similarly dripping with tasteless cheese – and approximately as likely to bring on a stomach ache and feelings of chronic misanthropy), it is a sorry excuse for a repast.
Show one of our Brit Paninis to an Italian chap and say 'Panino!' and you will deserve the derisive laughter with which you are met.
... And yet – a little like Swarovski or Pinot Grigio or Starbucks coffee (or Ronan Keating) – this foodstuff is somehow touted as a fine and wondrous thing. As an indication of quality; a hallmark of class (okay, so not that much like Ronan Keating, maybe). 'Oh, look, darling – they do paninis!' a wife might declare to her sagely approbatory husband (for instance) – in roughly the same tones as she might exclaim, 'Oh look – it got a Michelin star!'
But the tragedy is: nobody really likes the bloody things. I'm sure of it.
(I mean, seriously: let's look at that photo again, shall we, in case you're in danger of getting sentimental about this?)
[worth 1,000 words]
It's about time, in other words, that we wake up and smell the big potatoey slice of flavourless tomato. Take a long hard stare at the wilted, vitamin-drained 1-ply 'salad'. Come face to face with the buffalo-snot mozzarella. Wave goodbye to the effervescent, slugtrail-shimmering flipper of bubblegum-pink 'ham'.
... And kick the panini.
[Extra points to someone who actually goes out and kicks a panini. I will send a prize – really, I will – to anyone that sends me a video of genuine panini-abuse of their own making. That's a promise.]