Grilled Eggplant and Mozzarella Panini

Grilled Eggplant and Mozzarella Panini
Staff Writer
Eggplant Panini
Johnson Rauhoff
Eggplant Panini

Here, eggplant, tomato, and mozzarella meet in a panino, or Italian sandwich. The sliced eggplant is grilled first, then layered with the other ingredients between two pieces of pesto-brushed focaccia. After another brief trip to the grill to crisp the bread and melt the mozzarella, the hot panini are ready to slice and savor.

Click here to see A Vegetarian Grilling Menu.

Ingredients

For the pesto:

  • 1 ½ cups firmly packed fresh basil leaves
  • 2 cloves garlic, sliced
  • ¼ cup pine nuts, toasted*
  • ½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 6 tablespoons freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, or pecorino cheese, or a mix
  • Kosher or sea salt

For the eggplant:

  • 2 small eggplants, about ½ pound each
  • Kosher or sea salt
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 4 pieces thick focaccia, halved horizontally, or 8 pieces thin focaccia, each roughly 3-by-6 inches or equivalent
  • 8-12 thin tomato slices
  • 6 ounces fresh whole-milk mozzarella cheese, thinly sliced

Directions

For the pesto:

To make the pesto, put the basil, garlic, and pine nuts in a food processor and pulse until well chopped. With the motor running, add the olive oil gradually through the feed tube, stopping once or twice to scrape down the sides of the work bowl. Purée until the pesto is almost, but not completely smooth. Transfer to a bowl and stir in the cheese. Season to taste with salt.

For the eggplant:

Slice off the eggplants’ green cap, then cut each eggplant lengthwise into slices 3⁄16 of an inch thick. Discard the first and last slices, which are mostly skin. Sprinkle the remaining slices generously on both sides with salt. Place them on a rack and let stand for 30 minutes. Moisture will bead on the surface.

Prepare a moderate charcoal fire or preheat a gas grill to medium (375 degrees). Pat the eggplant slices dry with paper towels, then brush on both sides with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil. Place the slices directly over the coals or gas flame and cook, turning once, until just tender, about 3 minutes per side. Remove from the grill.

Spread 1 tablespoon pesto on 1 side of each focaccia piece — on the cut side if you have halved the focaccia, or on the bottom side if you have not. Layer the grilled eggplant slices, overlapping them slightly, on 4 of the pesto-topped slices. Top the eggplant with the tomato slices, then with mozzarella, dividing them both evenly. Place another piece of focaccia, pesto side down, on the sandwich.

Brush the sandwiches with the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil on both sides. Place the sandwiches directly over the coals or gas flame and cook, turning once, until they are hot throughout, the focaccia is nicely toasted, and the mozzarella is molten, about 3 minutes per side, depending on the heat of the fire. Cut in half and serve immediately.

Grilled Eggplant Shopping Tip

Look for vegetables that are firm and bright in color – avoid those that are wilted or have wrinkled skins, which are signs of age.

Grilled Eggplant Cooking Tip

Lightly salt eggplant after its been cut in order to eliminate the bitter taste.