I took a walk through the garden last night, and all I can say is that it appears we are on the cusp of overabundance. The tomatillos are starting to fill out their husks, the San Marzano and heirloom tomatoes are beginning to blush, and the eggplants already show promise of being prolific this year. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t eagerly anticipating the buckets of fresh veg that will be available to me soon. I’m also scrambling to find seasonally appropriate recipes for the coming deluge of produce, as I’ve found that my “filing” system for recipes leaves something to be desired. This system currently consists of a slightly organized three-ring binder, ONE folder in my bookmarks with the heading “to try”, and a hastily scribed “Food Index” Word document. No wonder I usually bypass all of that in favor of searching online.
Armed with my first eggplant from the garden and the remains of a hunk of Fontina in the fridge, I set out to find a recipe (yes, online) which would use them both. Epicurious came to the rescue again with a promising looking panini. Instead of running out and buying a loaf of artisanal bread, or even a standard sourdough, I decided to bake a variation of the no-knead bread for the soon-to-be sandwiches. I found what I was looking for over at Farmgirl Fare, and baked up a loaf loaded with seasonings typically used when making sausage, including paprika, fennel seeds, and oregano. The recipe also calls for the addition of basil pesto to the dough, along with some fresh chopped herbs. Needless to say, the finished product was dynamite.
Although I now have access to a panini press, I decided to put my grill pan and cast iron “press” to work. I made one sandwich at a time, since I was the only person eating them this time around. The first sandwich was made with Fontina cheese, but after the first bite, I found myself wondering how it would taste if I used fresh mozzarella instead. I also happened to have fresh mozzarella in the fridge (have I mentioned my cheese addiction?), so I used it for the next iteration – and I was right, it was even better.
Eggplant, Red Pepper, and Fresh Mozzarella Panini
Adapted from Bon Appétit, August 2009
Yields 4 sandwiches
Olive oil (for brushing)
1 14- to 16-ounce eggplant, cut crosswise into 1/2 inch thick rounds
2 large red bell peppers, cut lengthwise into 1 inch wide strips
8 slices bread, cut 1/2 inch thick
8 ounces fresh mozzarella cheese
8 tablespoons grated Romano cheese
4 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
4 teaspoons chopped fresh oregano (or 2 teaspoons dried oregano)
salt and pepper to taste
- Brush grill pan with oil and heat medium-high. Brush eggplant rounds and pepper strips with olive oil; sprinkle with salt and pepper.
- Working in batches, grill eggplant until tender, turning occasionally, about 6 minutes. Working in batches, grill red pepper strips until tender, turning occasionally, about 6 minutes. Remove each to plate when finished grilling.
- Place 4 bread slices on work surface. Divide half of the mozzarella cheese among bread slices, top each with two eggplant rounds (more if you have a skinny eggplant), 2 tablespoons Romano cheese, 1 tablespoon basil, and 1 teaspoon oregano (or 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano). Top each with red pepper strips and sprinkle with additional salt if desired. Arrange remaining mozzarella on top of peppers, then place remaining bread slices over cheese, pressing to compact.
- Drizzle olive oil on grill pan, pan should still be on medium-high heat. Place two sandwiches in pan and compress with cast iron skillet. Cook four to five minutes per side. Repeat with remaining sandwiches.