When we ate these sandwiches this past Monday, after having had them the previous week as well, I said to Eli, can we just have veggie sandwiches every Monday? Luckily he’s an amenable and mostly agreeable person, so of course he assented. Perhaps it’s because I just like messing with categories, but I think sandwiches aren’t just for lunch, and a sandwich doesn’t have to lack culinary invention or gastronomic verve on account of its lowly status as an on-the-go lunch fare or something that has to sit in a lunch box for 5 hours before you can eat it. The poor sandwich–what a bad rep it has.
This sandwich sings, “I don’t give a damn about my reputation!” The roasted vegetables are slightly smoky, the muffaletta spread (which isn’t just for meat sandwiches) is savory and punchy, and the fresh mozzarella gives the sandwich some real body. This is quick enough for a Monday night dinner, but delightful enough to serve to guests at a picnic or other less-formal occasion where it’s ok to eat with your hands. Minus the vegetables, my kids love fresh mozzarella sandwiches, so it’s a win-win as far as I’m concerned. It just means more for me! The following recipe makes 4 sandwiches.
1 French baguette or crusty bread (I used a long ciabatta this time, but I’ve also used a baguette–both are good, but the baguette is chewier), cut into 4 dinner-sized pieces and then sliced through the center so you can fill them
2 roasted red bell peppers (instructions to follow)
1 medium zucchini, sliced lengthwise and sauteed or grilled
2 large tomatoes, sliced about 1/4 inch thick (I love these new “kumatos”, which are brown tomatoes that I keep buying at Trader Joe’s. They are almost as flavorful as a garden tomato, but a roma or compari would be fine, too)
8 ounces of fresh mozzarella, sliced about 1/4 inch thick
fresh spinach or arugula
several leaves of fresh basil, rinsed and left whole (optional)
muffaletta spread or other tapenade (I have a muffaletta that is delicious, but I’ve also made similar sandwiches with an olive tapenade–store bought or homemade)
olive oil and balsamic vinegar
The most time consuming part of this meal is roasting the vegetables. You can buy pretty decent roasted red peppers in the store, which you could use to cut down the time, but roasting these is not difficult.
To roast the bell peppers, turn your broiler on and position your oven rack on the top-most slot in your oven. Put the whole peppers on the rack directly under the heat of the broiler and roast each side until it is totally blackened. I usually rotate my peppers every 4 – 5 minutes. You can smell when they start to burn, which is what you want them to do. When you have them just right they will look like this:
As soon as it is roasted, remove it from the oven and put it in a sealed container so that as it cools the flesh will shrink from the blackened skin, which will make the skin easier to remove. This usually takes 15 – 20 minutes. Once it is cool enough to handle easily, peel the skin off with your hands (like in the following picture), remove the seeds and stem, and cut into quarters.
Meanwhile, cut the zucchini in half and then slice into strips about 1/4 inch thick, or slightly thinner. Spray or coat them with a little olive oil and grill or saute them in a hot pan. I don’t have a grill so I do mine in a regular saute pan set over medium-high heat. Sear them so they are browned on each side, and then set them aside to cool.
To assemble the sandwiches, spread one side of each sandwich section with the muffaletta, and drizzle balsamic vinegar on the other half. Then place the layer of basil leaves, followed by the fresh mozzarella, and then the tomatoes, roasted peppers, zucchini, and ending with the spinach or arugula. Drizzle with olive oil if you like, and sprinkle with a little sea salt. Voila! That is one sexy sandwich!