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Vegetable Melts on Garlic Toast

Here is a new look at an old favorite, the melted-cheese sandwich. In this version, a stack of vegetables is made irresistible with a topping of melted mozzarella cheese. The sandwiches can be assembled ahead and placed in the broiler just before you serve them.

Ingredients:

  • 1 eggplant, about 3/4 lb., peeled and cut crosswise into 8 slices about 1/2 inch thick 
  • Kosher salt, to taste 
  • 4 large, firm ripe plum tomatoes, about 1 lb. total, halved lengthwise and seeded 
  • 4 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil 
  • 1 cup thin lengthwise-cut slices of sweet onion such as Maui, Vidalia or Walla Walla 
  • 2 Tbs. water
  • 5 oz. spinach leaves, stemmed (about 4 cups loosely packed) 
  • 1 tsp. minced garlic, plus 1 garlic clove, halved 
  • 1 Tbs. finely chopped pitted Kalamata olives 
  • Freshly ground pepper, to taste 
  • 4 thick whole-grain coarse country bread slices, each about 6 inches long, 4 inches wide and 3/4 inch thick 
  • 4 large fresh basil leaves, cut into chiffonade  
  • 1/4 lb. low-fat mozzarella cheese, shredded 

Directions:

Sprinkle both sides of each eggplant slice lightly with salt and layer them in a colander set over a plate. Place a second plate on top to weigh them down and let stand for 1 hour. Rinse the slices well and pat dry with paper towels.

Preheat an oven to 425°F.

Arrange the tomatoes, cut side up, in a 9-inch square baking pan and drizzle with 1 Tbs. of the olive oil. Arrange the eggplant slices on a baking sheet and, using 1 Tbs. oil, brush both sides of each slice. Place both pans in the oven. Roast the eggplant for 15 minutes; using a wide spatula, turn over and continue to roast until lightly browned and soft, about 10 minutes more. Remove from the oven. Meanwhile, roast the tomatoes, turning them and rotating the pan so the tomatoes cook evenly, until the skins are shriveled and caramelized, 35 to 45 minutes total. Remove from the oven, cover with aluminum foil and let the tomatoes cool. Uncover and peel off any skins that are loosened from the flesh. Reduce the oven temperature to 350°F.

Place a large fry pan over medium heat until hot enough for a drop of water to sizzle and then immediately evaporate. Add 1 Tbs. of the olive oil and the onion and toss to coat. Sprinkle with the water, cover, reduce the heat to low and cook until the onion is wilted and tender, about 8 minutes.

Meanwhile, wash the spinach carefully in 2 or 3 changes of water. Drain briefly in a colander. Uncover the pan, stir in the minced garlic and cook for 1 minute. Add the still-damp spinach leaves and toss to distribute evenly. Re-cover and cook until the spinach is wilted, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and add the olives, a pinch of salt and a grind of pepper. Stir to mix.

Rub 1 side of each bread slice lightly with the cut side of a garlic half. Arrange the slices on a baking sheet, garlic side up. Brush evenly with the remaining 1 Tbs. olive oil. Bake until lightly toasted, about 12 minutes. Remove from the oven.

Preheat a broiler.

Make a layer of the spinach mixture on each of the toasts, dividing it evenly. Top with 2 eggplant slices, slightly overlapping them, and then with 2 roasted tomato halves, cut side up. Sprinkle evenly with the basil. Arrange a layer of the cheese on top of each sandwich, dividing evenly. Slip the pan into the broiler about 4 inches from the heat source and broil until the cheese is hot and bubbly, about 4 minutes. Transfer to individual plates and serve immediately. Serves 4.

Adapted from Williams-Sonoma, Essentials of Healthful Cooking, by Mary Abbott Hess, Dana Jacobi & Marie Simmons (Oxmoor House, 2003).