Long before I ever believed that I could get paid for developing recipes, I would peer into my refrigerator and attempt to create a dish from whatever random foods I found on the shelves. I enjoyed the challenge of making something delicious from unlikely pairings of ingredients.
Tonight was one of those nights, when come dinner time, I didn't have a plan. I had a handful of grape tomatoes that weren't going to be fresh for much longer, some basil in a similar state, a couple eggplants, and a hunk of mozzarella cheese. These ingredients all have a place with one another, but I was in the mood for something a little out of the ordinary.
I pulled out my mini-prep food processor and whirred together the tomatoes, basil, and a few kalamata olives, which I always keep on hand. Add in some olive oil, salt and pepper, and I had a fresh, colorful spread which would give a little kick to my eggplant. It was a nice evening, so I fired up my outdoor gas grill and grilled rounds of the eggplant until they were soft and delicious. While preheating my panini press, I brushed olive oil on some homemade flatbread I'd picked up that afternoon, placed it on the press, and began to assemble my panini. Onto the flatbread I smeared a couple tablespoons of the tomato spread, followed by the gloriously grilled rounds of eggplant, and topped with a thick slice of fresh mozzarella cheese.
The result was a delicious panini that had my husband raving (yes, my husband eats eggplant). If you don't happen to care for eggplant, you make the panini with other grilled veggies like zucchini squash, peppers, or portabella mushrooms. Carnivores can substitute grilled chicken breast, but I'd strongly recommend trying it with eggplant. You may be surprised by the results!
Grilled Eggplant Panini with Tomato and Olive Spread
1 cup grape tomatoes
1/4 cup fresh basil
1/4 cup kalamata olives
Salt/pepper to taste
Add the tomatoes, basil and olives into the work bowl of a mini-food processor. Pulse to roughly chop. Add olive oil, salt and pepper and pulse again until a chunky spread is formed. Set aside.
For the Eggplant:
1 large or 2 small eggplants, cut into 1/2" to 3/4" rounds
(Note: by leaving the skin on the eggplant, it helps it to not fall apart on the grill)
Preheat an outdoor grill to medium-high heat.
Brush each side of eggplant rounds with olive oil and sprinkle with salt.
Grill for approximately 3-5 minutes per side, until softened and grill marks appear. Set aside.
(Alternatively, you can grill these on the panini press to save a trip outdoors.)
To make the panini:
8 slices country-style bread (Italian, peasant, etc) OR 8 pieces of flat bread
8 slices of fresh mozzarella cheese
Olive oil for brushing
Preheat panini press to high heat.
Brush one side of each piece of bread with olive oil.
Placing the oiled side down, lay one slice of bread on heated panini maker.
Spread 1-2 tablespoons of the tomato & olive spread on top of the bread.
Place one layer of grilled eggplant rounds over spread.
Place 2 slices of mozzarella cheese over eggplant layer.
Top with another slice of bread (this time, oiled side UP). Close panini maker and press until heated through (cheese should be melted), and bread is nicely grilled.
Repeat with remaining 3 sandwiches.
Cut in half and serve hot.