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Grilled Eggplant, Tuna, and Roasted Red Pepper Panini


Panini means "sandwich" in Italian and "delicious" in any language. This luscious sandwich is a large, round crusty loaf-either focaccia or ciabatta-layered with grilled eggplant, tuna, fresh mozzarella, roasted red peppers, tomato, black olives, and basil leaves. Homemade roasted red peppers taste best in this sandwich, but you can substitute best-quality bottled if you like. As a variation, replace the eggplant with several quartered marinated artichoke hearts. Sandwiches don't get much better than this.

1 unpeeled medium eggplant, cut crosswise into 1/2-inch-thick slices
Fruity olive oil for brushing and drizzling
1 Tuscan flat round loaf, such as focaccia or ciabatta, about 12 inches in diameter, halved lengthwise
Several lettuce leaves
1 can (about 6 ounces) solid light tuna packed in olive oil, well drained and broken into large chunks
Halved lemon for squeezing over filling
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 ounces fresh mozzarella, thinly sliced, or crumbled feta or goat cheese
1 cup thickly julienned roasted red pepper, bottled or homemade (see note)
2 big, fat garlic cloves, minced or put through a garlic press
1 large ripe tomato, thinly sliced
A handful of pitted Kalamata olives
8 large fresh basil leaves, coarsely chopped
 

Preheat the grill or broiler. Brush both sides of the eggplant slices with olive oil. Grill or broil the eggplant slices for 4 minutes on each side, or just until cooked through.

If the bread is quite thick, pull out some of the inside of the bread but not all of it, leaving a 1/2-inch shell. Drizzle the inside of the bread halves with olive oil. Arrange the lettuce leaves on the bottom half. Top with the tuna, a generous squeeze of lemon juice, a drizzle of olive oil, and a little salt and pepper. Layer the remaining ingredients on top of the tuna, drizzling a little olive oil and lemon juice over each layer and sprinkling each layer with salt and pepper. Top with the remaining bread half. Gently press down on the sandwich to compress the ingredients, and cut it into eight wedges.

NOTE: To roast red peppers, place each pepper over a gas burner or under a preheated broiler, and cook, turning frequently with tongs, until slightly softened and charred in several places. Transfer to a plate, cover with an inverted bowl and, when cool enough to handle, peel and seed the peppers.


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