One of my favorite picnic sandwiches is grilled veggies and cheese on crusty bread. It's filling but light at the same time, and seems the epitome of summer food to me. I've never used a recipe for it, and it varies based on what ever strikes my fancy from the garden or market. It is always good, but I wanted to make it better. Inspiration struck in the form of a pasta dish.
One of my favorite light summer suppers is Grilled Garden Pasta, a recipe I gleaned from Better Homes and Gardens magazine several years ago. It's a combination of pasta lightly dressed in lemon juice and olive oil, topped with chunks of grilled vegetables, and sprinkled with a gremolata-like mixture of cheese, herbs, garlic, lemon zest, and jalepeño. The gremolata really makes the dish; it is fresh and piquant with a pleasant amount of heat.
I decided to incorporate the gremolata concept into the sandwich. It is essentially the Grilled Garden Pasta translated into a sandwich form. It can be eaten as soon as it's made, but it improves if it is wrapped tightly and rested for an hour or two at room temperature. It is even good if refrigerated overnight. It is a bit messy to eat, so an outdoor setting is ideal – just be sure to pack some napkins. —hardlikearmour
Test Kitchen Notes
This sandwich is a labor of love, but when all the components come together it's really tasty. The well-balanced gremolata cheese spread melds together with the toasted bread and grilled veggies creating a fresh garden sandwich. All you carnivores out there, don't be fooled by this vegetable sandwich -- it's "meaty" and super-satisfying! As hardlikearmour suggests, pack some extra napkins because it is a bit messy to eat. - jvcooks —jvcooks
- Serves 3 to 4
- For the Gremolata Cheese Spread
1 small to medium clove garlic
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
parmesan – microplaned
zest from 1 lemon
½ to 1 jalepeño, (seeds removed) finely diced
generous ¼ cup chiffonade cut basil
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil
- For the Grilled Garden Sandwich
2 medium summer squash (elongated type)
1 small to medium eggplant (the oval to egg-shaped type)
1 red pepper
½-inch thick slice of a large sweet onion
1 loaf French batard
juice from one lemon
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- Remove fromage blanc from refrigerator to soften.
- Cut ends off summer squash, and slice squash lengthwise into thirds. Cut stem end off eggplant and slice eggplant lengthwise into fourths. Sprinkle cut surfaces of squash and eggplant with kosher salt and arrange in a colander with as little overlapping as possible. Set colander aside over a bowl or in the sink for 30 minutes.
- Quarter red pepper from stem to blossom end. Remove stem, ribs and seeds. Set aside. Carefully thread onion slice onto a bamboo skewer. Set aside.
- Heat your grill or grill pan to medium. You'll be grilling over direct heat.
- Slice batard in half so the bottom half is about 1-inch thick. Use your fingers to pluck most of the bread from the inside of the top slice. Discard or better yet, save for bread crumbs or rustic croutons. Brush the cut surfaces with olive oil.
- Mince garlic and sprinkle it with the salt. Using the flat side of a chef's knife scrape the garlic and salt back and forth on your cutting board until it becomes a paste. Transfer garlic mixture to a bowl. Add remaining gremolata cheese spread ingredients, and mix well to combine. Set aside until ready to assemble sandwich.
- Grill bread on cut surfaces only for several minutes until grill marks form. Set aside and allow to cool to room temperature.
- Rinse eggplant and squash and pat dry with paper towels or a clean tea towel. Set aside. Place ½ cup olive oil, lemon juice, and black pepper in a bowl, and whisk until well-combined. Brush mixture on all sides of the eggplant and squash slices. Add ¼ teaspoon kosher salt to the olive oil mixture, and whisk to dissolve. Brush all surfaces of the onion and the red pepper.
- Grill vegetables over medium heat until grill marks form on the first side, 3 to 4 minutes. Then flip until vegetables are softened and grill marks form on the second side, 3 to 4 minutes. Place red pepper pieces into a small paper bag, and crimp closed. Remove onion from skewer and coarsely chop. After pepper has steamed for several minutes, remove and discard the charred skin. Thinly slice the pepper.
- Spread the gremolata cheese spread in a thin even layer on both top and bottom halves of the bread. You should use all of the spread. Layer the eggplant and squash over the bottom half of the sandwich, distributing each in an even layer. Scatter an even layer of red pepper and onion over the other vegetables. Place the "lid" on the sandwich. Wrap the sandwich as tightly as you can with plastic wrap. You want the filling components to smoosh together and get really friendly. It's even okay if the sandwich gets a bit crushed in the picnic basket - the batard is quite sturdy and can take it! Allow to rest at room temperature for 1 to 2 hours or overnight in the fridge before slicing with a serrated knife and serving.