You know what? I’m still in the mood for Italian after that exquisite Orecchiette with Mushroom Thyme Sauce from last week, but I feel like it’s too soon for another pasta dish. Besides, there’s more to Italian cuisine than pasta (but I do love pasta!). A quick search of my Pinterest boards and I found the perfect recipe, this Italian Toasted Veggie Sandwich. It’s layers and layers of Italian flavors like pesto, eggplant, and sun-dried tomatoes. It even includes a recipe for homemade focaccia bread, and I have always wanted to try making it. Let’s give this one a go!
A deliciously hot pressed Italian style toasted vegetarian sandwich filled with freshly made pesto, spinach, roasted eggplant, mozzarella and sundried tomatoes. Perfect for a lazy weekend brunch, or a casual lunch for guests!
A quick search of my pantry, and I found that I didn’t have any ingredients for this recipe. Not a single one! I did have everything I needed to make the focaccia bread, but just barely.
Although I had to shop for all the ingredients, I was able to find them at my usual grocery store. The basil was the type that came in a 1-ounce plastic clamshell, and I wasn’t sure it would be enough so I bought 2. One ended up being just enough.
To cut costs, I switched from pine nuts to slivered almonds for the pesto. I’ve always made it with pine nuts, but they were $8. The same size package of almonds was half that, and peeling is part of the slivering process. It worked out great!
My store has good grated parmesan in the deli department, so I went with that to save myself some work. The only thing I had a small issue finding was the julienned sun-dried tomatoes. The only type they had was labeled “with herbs”. Sun-dried tomatoes are powerful on their own, and I didn’t notice a difference in flavor.
I made this Italian Toasted Veggie Sandwich recipe into a twofer by making the focaccia bread with it. Or before it. You’ll find a link to it in the notes section of the recipe.
I tested the recipe with no additional herbs and wrapped it tightly to use the next day. Well, that didn’t happen, and I’m sad to say the loaf went moldy.
I had to make another loaf of focaccia, but it wasn’t difficult at all. In fact, this is the easiest bread recipe I have ever made! And this time I added some leftover thyme leaves from that orecchiette dish I mentioned earlier. Plus I added some Maldon sea salt flakes. So good!
Making the Sandwiches
The actual sandwich kicks off with slicing up the eggplant. Then it’s brushed with olive oil and roasted on a sheet pan for 25 minutes. Tip: So easy, but I would peel it and give it a shake of salt next time. The peels tended to come off by themselves in the first few bites, and the eggplant needed just a little extra flavor.
While the eggplant did its thing, I worked on the rest of the prep. A bit of slicing, measuring, etc. The real “work” was making the pesto, and my mini-prep took care of that. Mostly.
I pulled the leaves off the basil stems because I’m picky like that. Then I added the ingredients to my mini-prep and gave it a whir. It did great on everything but the garlic clove. I had to pick it out, press it, and return it to the bowl to mix it in. Tip: Making the pesto was quick, but I would mince or press the garlic first.
I was able to get everything finished before the eggplant was done, so I was ready to make my sandwich right away. This was a messy one, but it was worth it!
First, I added plenty of pesto and a handful of spinach to the bottom layer of focaccia. Then I piled on the toppings in the order listed. It was a slice of eggplant, folded, slices of mozzarella, sun-dried tomatoes, more pesto, and the top piece of bread.
Grilling the Sandwiches
I thought about buying a sandwich press for this recipe, but I just don’t have the space to store another appliance. Plus I’m not sure how much use I would get out of it. Instead, I decided to get a cast-iron sandwich press, complete with ridges to make grill marks.
It was less expensive and will be much easier to store. In the past, I have tried pressing sandwiches by using a heated cast-iron skillet on top, but it wasn’t too successful. The skillet was too heavy to easily balance it on top of a sandwich, and this press is much lighter.
I began pre-heating my sandwich press and grill pan in the last 5-10 minutes of the eggplant’s cooking time. Both were ready to go as soon as I needed them, and I toasted the sandwiches one at a time. They were very full but not too hard to manage. the grill marks on the top were very faint despite preheating, but it did the job well enough. Tip: Next time I would grill the sandwiches upside down so the heat from the pan can melt the cheese a little better.
As I was getting the sandwiches ready to photograph, I looked over at the extra eggplant. I couldn’t just leave it! I added another to each sandwich, making 4 layers of roasted eggplant each. They were super tall, and I’m glad I didn’t try to toast them that way. I’m not sure I could have managed to get them in and out of my grill pan without them falling apart.
This Italian Toasted Veggie Sandwich recipe lists 10 minutes to prep, 30 minutes to cook, and a total time of 40 minutes. I came in just under that. Here’s how my tie was spent:
- 4 minutes to prep the eggplant
- 25 minutes to roast the eggplant
- 4 minutes to make the pesto
- 4 minutes to prep the remaining ingredients
- 2 minutes to assemble 2 sandwiches
- 4 minutes to press 2 sandwiches (2 minutes each)
- 35 minutes total