Grilled Eggplant, Pesto & Tomato Sandwich on Focaccia

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Sir John Montagu isn’t remembered for his politics, so much as his snacking.  It’s been 250 years since the 4th Earl of Sandwich supposedly ate the meal-between-bread that has carried his name ever since. In honor of that moment, Fleischmann’s Yeast themed its 2012 State Fair baking competitions around the sandwich. While a lot of America’s favorite sandwiches include something meaty in the middle, this blue-ribbon-winning recipe at the Illinois State Fair, from Rockford, IL, physician Michael Comerford, stars another American favorite: home-grown tomatoes, with pesto & grilled eggplant on easy-to-make focaccia bread.

 

Makes 12, 3-inch-square sandwiches

Focaccia Bread Ingredients

  • 1 package (2 1/4 tsp) Fleischmann’s Active Dry Yeast
  • 1 cup warm (110 degree) water
  • 1 large potato (after cooking and grating should measure 1 1/3 cups)
  • 3 1/2 cups all purpose flour, divided
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp salt
  • generous pinch kosher salt, or coarsely-ground salt
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil to brush on crust
  • 1 Tbsp parmesan cheese

Basil Pesto Ingredients

  • 5 cups loosely-packed fresh basil, stems removed
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 3/4 cup finely-grated parmesan cheese
  • 1/4 cup toasted pine nuts
  • 2 small garlic cloves, peeled

Grilled Eggplant Ingredients

  • 4 medium-sized Chinese eggplants
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil

Homegrown or Heirloom Tomato Ingredients

  • 4 or 5 fresh, sliced tomatoes

Instructions

  1. Grill eggplant: Slice eggplant into long planks about 1/8-inch thick. Cut these in half so each plank is about 4 to 5 inches long. Sprinkle with salt and allow to rest in colander for 20 minutes. Rinse salt off. Pat dry. Brush with olive oil. Grill three minutes on each side until well marked and soft. Cool.
  2. Slice tomatoes.
  3. Make focaccia: Sprinkle yeast over 1/2 cup warm water in large bowl. Allow to “bloom” for five minutes.
  4. Peel potatoes; quarter and set in a pot of water on stovetop over medium heat.
  5. After yeast has bloomed, stir 1/2 cup flour into yeast water. Cover and let rise for 20 minutes.
  6. Allow potatoes to boil for 20 minutes. Drain.
  7. Grate cooled potatoes to make 1 1/3 cups. Add to flour/yeast mixture. Add remaining three cups flour, remaining 1/2 cup water, 2 Tbsp of olive oil and 1 tsp salt and stir to make a stiff dough. Knead for about 8 minutes. Transfer into a lightly-oiled bowl, cover with a tea towel and let rise in a draft-free warm place for one hour. Punch down. Spread dough on a cookie sheet/baking pan shaping dough into a 9 x 13 rectangle. Let rise 40 more minutes, lightly covered with tea towel. Brush dough with 1 Tbsp olive oil, dimple surface with your fingers and sprinkle with pinch of salt and 1 Tbsp parmesan cheese (optional). Bake at 425 for 25 minutes. Cool on rack for 5 minutes.
  8. While focaccia is baking, make pesto: combine all ingredients in food processor and pulse until well blended.
  9.  Cut focaccia loaf into 12, 3-inch squares; slice each in half (sideways) to make a top and bottom piece for each sandwich.
  10. Spread each bottom piece with pesto, layer fresh sliced tomatoes and grilled eggplant over. Top with top piece of sliced focaccia. Enjoy.

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