Add these regional panini to your bucket list, and get to work.
Italy is one of the great sandwich nations of the world. A leader in cured meats, salami, and cheeses, the country is a hotbed of sandwich innovation, yet it is the classic panini that remain the most essential. Traveling across Italy, you'll find that the sandwiches vary greatly, even in towns just a few kilometers apart—the same way that one village prizes a certain shape of pasta, while a neighboring town uses another one (say, the lorighitta of Morgongiori in western Sardinia) that you're unlikely to find anywhere else in Italy.
But there are a few classic sandwiches you must eat in your lifetime if you don't want to be saddled with regret on your death bed. (And remember to eat these pizzas, too.)
1. Porchetta di Ariccia
The fatty, heavily seasoned boneless pork roast, so often enjoyed in sandwiches, is said to have originated in the Rome area, making porchetta di ariccia the most classic version of the dish, of which you can find iterations throughout Italy. The meat is flavored generously with salt, pepper, garlic, and rosemary, and a sandwich of it doesn't need much else but the pork and a crusty roll.
The crunchy bits of skin mixed into the succulent chopped roast offers a texture experience as satisfying as the flavor.
2. Porchetta Abruzzese
Another popular porchetta sandwich, this classic appears throughout the Italian region of Abruzzo, often served from white trucks on the side of the street. Every August in Teramo, you can celebrate the "Sagra della Porchetta Italica di Campli," a large festival devoted to the delicacy, which is often made with wild fennel, sage, and rosemary.
3. Panino al Prosciutto
The prosciutto in Italy is so excellent that it shines on its own in a sandwich, even though cheese and tomato can certinaly enhance it. But to appreciate the glory of the country's silky cured ham, try it alone on a crusty ridged roll. Pop into the back of almost any supermarket or grocery store by the deli counter, and they'll make one for you at a price that seems absurdly low.
Prosciutto is the star of so many of Italy's sandwiches, which is why a simple panino of fresh focaccia and prosciutto is so damn good, too. (This is a popular snack among school children.)
4. Mozzarella di Bufala e Pomodoro
When buffalo mozzarella milk and sweet tomato juice join forces on a sandwich, seeping into the pillowy bread, something amazing happens. Drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with basil, the result is transcendent: the dream panino. Mozzarella di bufala, traditionally made in Italy's Campania region (in Salerno and Caserta), is one of the country's most prized products and sandwich assets. In Gaeta, a seaside town in Lazio where my maternal grandfather grew up, you can buy the simple sandwiches for three euro or less at roadside stands.
This Apulian classic is made of pizza dough stuffed with meats and cheeses, particularly popular in the town of Lecce.
A thin flatbread served on the street or at bars, particularly in the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy, these light sandwiches are often stuffed with prosciutto, arugula, and some kind of melty or soft cheese, whether robiola or stracciatella.
Even if you're squeamish about innards, you have to try this classic Florentine sandwich of roasted cow stomach, which is the city's quintessential street food. The tripe is chopped and slow-roasted in a flavorful broth with herbs, then topped with a bright salsa verde on a roll. Stomach doesn't get much better than this.
8. Pani ca meusa
Served on Sicily's vastedda bread and typically topped with caciocavallo and ricotta cheese, this rich spleen panino is ubiquitous on the bustling streets of Palermo. (You can also sometimes find it deep-fried, which is wonderful, too.)
9. Pane e Panelle
Another extraordinary Sicilian delicacy iis the pane e panelle, a panino stuffed with chickpea fritters and served on a sesame seed roll. Panelle di ceci, the chickpea fritters, are commonly eaten alone, too. But bread, we feel, always makes things better, and this panino is street food at its finest.
10. Panino con mortadella
The black pepper- and pistachio-studded mortadella of Bologna is so flavorful that, as we keep saying about Italy's meats, it doesn't need much else. Wildly unlike the packaged bologna you find in American supermarkets, mortadella is a complex, deeply flavorful meat made of heat-cured pork.