Tuesday, July 5, 2016

The Best Sandwich I Ever Made

Here it is the 4th of July and I'm sitting at my desk still salivating over the memory of a sandwich I made around Memorial Day. I had a real crud of a cold and hadn't gone to the market in awhile so I was left to forage around my fridge and freezer for something for lunch one day that seemed appetizing. What I ended up with was--to me--the best sandwich I'd ever made. Perfect bread--just
lightly toasted. Inside, a sublime mix of flavors and textures just from vegetables, herbs, spices, goat cheese, and oil and vinegar. You know how sometimes you pull together all the right ingredients and take a bite that, huh, lets you down because something's missing? Not this one. I got this totally right. I wanted to linger over it to savor what I'd created. And then make it again.

What I had was a Bread & Cie ciabatta roll I found in the freezer, a red onion, a package of goat cheese, and my favorite Italian marinated eggplant I had made a week or so earlier. I've written about this eggplant dish in the past. I've been making the recipe from Gourmet magazine since 2002 and it's never dated. It's sharp and garlicky from white wine vinegar and, well, garlic, all bathed in olive oil with a hint of oregano and a sharp hit of heat from crushed red peppers. I add it to pasta sauce. I slather good sourdough bread with it. And now, apparently, I add it to sandwiches. It's divine.

Then I remembered that among the bag of provisions my sweet mom had dropped off for me (including magnificent chicken soup with matzoh balls) was a package of roasted red peppers. Her reasoning was that the peppers were filled with vitamin C so she roasted several for me. I had plopped them in a container and covered them with olive oil and a wonderfully dark aromatic aged Spanish vinegar, Vinegar Viejo de Montilla, I had bought at Vom Fass Hillcrest. So it had a day or two of marinating already.

I didn't see how I could go wrong with this combination of ingredients, but neither did I realize how sublime it would actually be.

To put it together, slice the ciabatta roll in half horizontally and lightly toast or grill the halves. This will help give it structure once you add the oil-laden red peppers and eggplant.

Place a couple of slices of the red peppers on the bottom slice of the roll so the oil can coat the bread. Then add a couple of tablespoons of the Italian marinated eggplant, then the red onion slice. Drizzle the top slice of the roll with some of the oil from the eggplant and then spread the goat cheese over it. Place that on the onion slice. Now you have your sandwich. Slice in half and eat carefully over a plate, napkin at the ready. It's juicy!

Italian Marinated Eggplant
(printable recipe)
Yield: 2 cups

I've had this same recipe from Gourmet since August 2002. It really should be called Pickled Eggplant since boiling the eggplant in white wine vinegar takes it to a whole other dimension. It came from one of Gourmet's readers on its "Sugar and Spice" page. Gourmet later published another version of this from the staff but honestly it's not nearly as good. The little changes in proportions they made didn't serve the flavor at all. So, I'm sticking with this and I hope you try it. Not only do I drain it and enjoy on a crusty piece of bread or toasted pita, I often add it to tomato sauces for flavoring. Enjoy the oil, too! 

1 1/2 pound eggplant, peeled and cut into 3 X 1/4-inch sticks
1 1/2 tablespoons salt
2 cups white wine vinegar
2 cups water
2 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
2 teaspoons chopped fresh oregano or 1/4 teaspoon crumbled dried
1/4 teaspoon black pepper (or crushed red pepper flakes)
About 1 1/2 cups olive oil

1. Toss eggplant with salt and drain in a colander set over a bowl, covered, at room temperature 4 hours. (Eggplant will turn brown.) Discard liquid in bowl.

2. Gently squeeze handfuls of eggplant to remove excess liquid.

3. Bring vinegar and water to a boil in a 3- to 4-quart nonreactive saucepan. Add eggplant and boil, stirring occasionally, until tender, about 5 minutes. Drain in colander, then set colander over a bowl and continue to drain eggplant, covered and chilled, 2 hours more. Discard liquid in bowl.

4. Gently squeeze handfuls of eggplant to remove excess liquid, then pat try with paper towels.

5. Stir together eggplant, garlic, oregano, pepper, and 1 cup oil in a bowl. Transfer to a 1-quart jar with a tight-fitting lid and add enough olive oil to just cover eggplant. Marinate eggplant, covered and chilled, at least 4 hours. Bring to room temperature before serving. Scoop eggplant out of jar with a fork to drain excess oil. Marinated eggplant keeps up to 1 month.

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