You know when you go to a trendy deli or cafe and order a sandwich that knocks you back $10-15? This is that kind of sandwich only you can make it at home whenever you want and it costs a fraction of the price. Oh, and of course, it's absolutely delicious and healthy for you too!!
Making the veggie part of this combo is a snap. Basically all you do is brush zucchini, tomatoes, eggplant, and some garlic cloves with olive oil and roast them till they're nice and tender.
Now comes the big decision part. If you're feeling rushed and hassled, buy fresh ricotta from an Italian market or specialty store (the regular supermarket kind will do in a pinch too). If things are going smoothly and you're feeling somewhat adventurous, you can take the plunge and make your own. It's easy and sort of cool in a scientific way. My kids and I had fun watching the chemical reaction. First you line a strainer with cheesecloth--
Then you bring milk, cream and salt to a boil. Once you stir in the lemon juice, you will start to see little cheese curds forming. That's when you pour the whole mixture into the strainer and let it sit for 15 minutes so that the cheese can drain. See the edges where the little curds are forming?
Once it's drained, you scrape the cheese from the cheesecloth. It's a bit messy and doesn't yield a whole lot but it tastes wonderful--light and dreamy and even more wonderful when you mash the roasted garlic cloves and some salt and pepper into it!
Now you're ready to build your sandwiches! I bought some already sliced peasant bread, but really any good quality bread or baguette would work here. You spread a thin layer of the ricotta on four slices of the bread and then pile on the roasted veggies--
Then top with the remaining four slices of bread and either eat as is or brush them with a little olive oil and toast them briefly in the oven--this was my son's idea and he proceeded to wolf down 2 1/2 sandwiches after they emerged from the oven. The bread gets all toasted and crispy, the ricotta slightly warm and loose and the veggies have that warm mellow flavor. It makes a delicious lunch or light dinner and people in this house are already clamoring for me to make them again--a surefire sign of a hit!!
Roasted Vegetable and Fresh Ricotta Sandwiches
Makes 4 sandwiches
Prep Time: 45 minutes-1 hour (only about 30 minutes of hands-on work)
1 large zucchini
6-7 medium ripe plum tomatoes
7-8 garlic cloves
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and fresh black pepper
1 quart whole milk
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
8 slices good bread, sliced (I used peasant bread)
1. Preheat oven to 425ºF and generously oil 2 baking sheet with rims.
2. Cut the eggplant, zucchini and tomatoes into 1/4-inch thick slices and arrange them on the baking sheets in a single layer, scattering the garlic cloves amongst them. In a small bowl, mix the olive oil with 3/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Brush the mixture on both sides of the veggies, using a pastry brush. Roast the veggies for 30 minutes, turning the eggplant and zucchini once half-way through and removing the garlic as well at the 15 minute mark. When veggies are tender, remove from oven and set aside.
3. If you are using store-bought ricotta, go to Step 4 . If you're making your own, line a strainer with a double layer of cheesecloth or slightly dampened paper towels. Place the strainer over a bowl. In a heavy 4-quart pot, slowly bring the milk, cream and 1/4 teaspoon salt to a rolling boil, stirring every now and then. Then stir in the lemon juice and reduce the heat to low. Let the mixture simmer for about 2 minutes, until it curdles, stirring it occasionally. Pour it into the lined strainer and let it drain for 15 minutes. Throw out what's in the bowl. Scrape the cheese off the cheesecloth and place it into a bowl.
4. Mash the roasted garlic into the ricotta and stir well. Add salt and pepper to taste.
5. Spread the ricotta equally among 4 slices of the bread and top with the vegetables. Cover with remaining 4 slices of the bread. Cut in half and serve as is or turn oven on to 350ºF. Brush tops and bottoms of bread with a bit of olive oil and place on a baking sheet. Cook for 10-12 minutes until bread is golden and crunchy, turning once during process. Serve immediately.
Note: Recipe adapted from Sara Moulton's Everyday Family Dinners.