#meatlessmonday Grilled Eggplant Paninis

Grilled Eggplant
Grilled Eggplant

You ready for some Italian?  How about

Grilled Eggplant Paninis?

The inspiration for this dish came from a great man and an amazing chef: Chef Jasper from Jasper’s restaurant in Kansas City.  He actually let me hang out with him for a Saturday (which, mind you is the ONLY reason I would wake up at 8 on a Saturday!) 

It was such an experience!  I got to attend his radio program, we talked food, we stopped by a grocery store, and he showed me how to tell when mozarella hasn’t been pulled long enough.  (hint: hard mozarella needs more pulling.)  I even got to hear about the real Jasper from his wife.  Amazing.

Part of my day was eating with Chef’s wife at Marco Polo’s, which is this amazing little deli connected to Jasper’s.  They fed me a startlingly refined, slightly spicy sausage sandwich from the deli.  It was topped with onions, green peppers and potatoes and came with a very unique barbecue sauce that was kind of sweet and kind of tangy.  A lot of times sausage sandwiches are greasy and taste like burnt sausage.  This one was perfectly balanced sausage sandwich with meat that didn’t overpower the other ingredients.  And I got to take some of the sausage home.  (yay!)

Anyway, last week I got hungry (like I do) and was in the mood for a sandwich.  So my buddy and I headed over to Marco Polo’s in the hunt for another sausage sandwiche.  Sadly, there was no one manning the grill!  Disappointed, but undaunted I headed in and ordered a fairly outstanding consolation prize: a grilled eggplant panini with mozzarella and roasted red peppers.

Making Grilled Eggplant Paninis

First, let me say this is my attempt to recreate his dish so any errors in it are mine and mine alone.   Not that I’m not going to try and pester him for some recipes to put on the blog!

There are two keys to making this dish: the eggplant and the roasted red peppers.  With the eggplant, we’re going to salt it and let it sit for about 60 minutes to suck out some of the moisture in it.  With the red peppers, we’re actually going to make them ourselves rather than use something store bought.  If you like store bought, that’s fine.  For me, nothing beats fresh roasted red peppers I made myself.

You will need:

  • 1 eggplant, sliced into 1/4 inch slices
  • 4 tablespoons kosher salt
  • 2 red peppers
  • 6 tablespoons olive oil (divided)
  • 4 ciabatta rolls
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 8 ounces, mozzarella sliced very thin

Preparation time: 1 hour 15 minutes
Cook time: 10 minutes
Yield: 4 awesome grilled eggplant paninis

About an hour and fifteen minutes before you want to make your sandwiches, take your eggplant slices and put them on a cookie sheet (or better a wire cooling rack) and liberally sprinkle with kosher salt.  Set aside.  You’ll be amazed at how much water seeps out.

About thirty minutes before sandwich time, preheat your broiler to its highest setting.  Put the red peppers and 4 tablespoons of olive oil in a plastic bag and shake well to coat the red peppers.  Put them in the broiler and cook them until their skin is charred.  You will need to turn the peppers at least once.  Alternately, you can use a gas burner or your grill to do this. 

Once the skin is black, put the peppers in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap.  Let the peppers sit for 5-10 minutes and then the skin should come right off.  Slice into 6-8 strips.

Fifteen mintues before it’s time to cook, wipe off as much of the salt as you can from the eggplant.  Next, brush the remaining olive oil on the grill.  Grill the eggplant until it’s firmly cooked through, 3-4 minutes per side, over a medium-high grill or a three second fire.  It’s hard to overcook eggplant so you don’t have to worry too much.  Also, slice the ciabatta rolls in half, butter their cut sides and toast them for about a minute on their cut sides only.

Finally, make the sandwiches by layering cheese, eggplant, red pepper, and more cheese between the two pieces of bread.  To melt the cheese, put the sandwich in a panini press.  If you don’t have a press, put them back on the grill and place a skillet with a few cans or something something heavy on the top of the sandwich.  Cook 2 minutes covered and flip.  Cook until the cheese is nice and melty.

It’s a delicious, delicious meal.  Enjoy!

Thanks to woodleywonderworks for the picture.

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