Mediterranean Grilled Vegetable Sandwich with Pesto and Two Cheeses

Friday, July 27, 2012

Not as excited about grilled vegetables on their own as I am? Then do I have the recipe for you! The sandwiches I created last weekend while visiting my in-laws on Cape Cod almost made me stand up and cheer, because the idea arose organically (pardon the pun) earlier that day based upon my farmers’ market bounty and need to take advantage of an available outdoor grill. Isn’t that gorgeous looking? Very, very tasty, too. I was so pleased with the results and urge you to give this one a try next time you want to do a little something different on the grill.

Here’s the how-to.

1. Grill the veggies, as discussed here. I was inspired to use whole portobellos, scallions, tomatoes, and Tuscan kale, but use whatever vegetables make you happy. (See cook’s notes section at the foot of this post.)

2. Grill the bread. Ciabatta is a great choice, as it’s relatively flat and I found the perfectly sized loaf to create sandwiches for four people. Had I the time, I would’ve whipped up a pan of focaccia with caramelized onions, which would have worked better because it’s softer and easier to eat. But, er, I have a job. Several, in fact. So a fresh loaf from the bakery sufficed. No pictures, sorry, but all you need to do is cut the loaf in half horizontally, brush with olive oil, and grind on a bit of pepper. You could add crushed garlic to the bread if you like, but I was trying to keep things moving along and there’s plenty of garlic in the pesto. Grill each side for a few minutes, until lightly toasted, ~2-3 minutes each side.

3. Melt the cheese by placing slices of mozzarella (preferably fresh or buffalo) into the cap of each portabello and placing back on the grill for a few minutes.

4. Assemble the sandwich by spreading pesto on each side of the bread and goat cheese on one half. Layer the vegetables. (I did kale on the bottom, then mushrooms, tomatoes, and scallions.) Garnish with purslane. (Purslane is an exotic weed also known as “pigweed,” apparently. Who knew? More here.)

Cooking and Eating Notes 

First, if you are grilling tomatoes, make sure they are not too ripe otherwise they’ll fall apart on the grill. They will cook in just a few minutes each side. Second, if you are using kale, which I thought would be fun, be cautious: it can char and burn to a crisp quickly so you need to watch it carefully and rotate. Also – and I learned this the hard way – you may want to remove the inner fibrous stalk before putting it on the sandwich. This was surprising to me and I speculate that just how fibrous the stalks are varies by season and variety of kale, as I’ve made a number of kale salads in my time and never had the “Whoops, I just lost a tooth” or “Pardon me while I surreptitiously spit this inedible non-starch polysaccharide (fiber) into a napkin while at dinner with guests” situation. In other words, these stalks were ridiculously tough. (The first scenario did not happen, by the way; the second did.) When I next make this sandwich, I’ll remove the stalks and chop the kale prior. Third, I garnished the sandwich with purslane (that four leaf clover looking stuff in the photo) simply because it was at the market; it’s not something I regularly see, hence eat. Microgreens would work perfectly well and arguably better, as they are milder. Finally, make it your own by omitting one or both of the cheeses to decrease the calorie content, if that’s a concern. I went back and forth about whether to include the second cheese (mozzarella), as chèvre is perfect on its own, but I wanted the “melty, cheesy” factor from the mild mozzarella and the zing of goat cheese. I found it perfect, but do what you will.

And yes, while glorious in presentation, this sandwich isn’t easy to eat. But it’s well worth the extra napkins. There were people at our table that ate the sandwich like you’d expect (male people, who generally have larger mouths and take larger bites). I approached mine as an open sandwich as there was no way my mouth would fit around it. I saved the top piece to eat separately, as it was basically just grilled bread with pesto and goat cheese—yum!—and superb on its own.

In fact, it now occurs that you could deconstruct the whole thing and serve a grilled vegetable salad topped with a bit of goat cheese and purslane and serve with a side of grilled bread with pesto, which would be an equally delicious dinner and, had I thought of it at the time, I would’ve take another photo.

Ah, well. Next time.

And there will be a next time for this amazing summer supper.

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Dr. P. K. Newby is a nutrition scientist, speaker, and author with expertise in all things food, farm to fork, whether preventing obesity and other chronic diseases through diet or teaching planet-conscious eating. As a health expert and food personality, she brings together her passions for food, cooking, science, and sustainability to educate and inspire, helping people eat their way towards better health, one delectable bite at a time. Because healthy food shouldn’t suck.

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