Last year, at the DC Green Festival, I picked up Vegan Italiano – a cookbook featuring “meat-free, egg-free, dairy-free dishes from sun-drenched Italy.”
This cookbook proves that the vegan diet can indeed be adventurous and delicious.
Donna Klein begins Vegan Italiano with a quick overview of cooking in the various regions of Italy and then provides a little information about ingredients and how nutritional information was calculated. Then, it’s off to the races with 225 recipes including the whole gamut of soups, salads, pasta, rice/grains, vegetables, beans, pizza, breads, sandwiches and desserts.
There are no pictures in the book, but there are quick introductions to each recipe providing a serving suggestion, a hint or a menu idea. In paging through this cookbook, I noted how many of the vegetable dishes would be perfect on a Thanksgiving table – carrots with basil, butternut squash puree, green beans with wild mushroom and tomatoes. Many of these vegan recipes could be added to the table without the carnivore being any the wiser.
For the panini recipe, I used a whole wheat ciabatta bread and cooked everything under the broiler. Be aware when making the spinach-pesto sauce. I used three cloves of a very fresh organic garlic bulb and let’s just say that the In-house Taste Tester and I scared off all vampires in a 3-mile radius from our house after eating these sandwiches. So, if you want less pungent results perhaps cut down the amount of garlic and add more after you have a chance to taste test it.
These sandwiches were fresh and light on a summer’s evening and would be perfect to make when grilling because there really isn’t a lot of preparation involved. (You could make the pesto a day in advance.)
Panini with Grilled Eggplant, Roasted Peppers, and Spinach-Pesto Sauce
1 large round eggplant (about 1 pound), cut into ½-inch-thick rounds
1 medium green or red bell pepper (about 6 ounces, cut lengthwise into eights (Note: I used yellow pepper…I also considered using an orange pepper. The recipe is flexible.)
1 medium red onion (about 6 ounces), cut into ½-inch-thick rounds
2 ½ tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
½ tablespoon balsamic vinegar
salte, preferably the coarse variety, and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
8 large slices Italian bread (about 1 ¼ ounces each) (Note: I used whole wheat ciabatta.)
Spinach-Pesto Sauce (recipe below)
Sprinkle the eggplant slices with table salt and set in a colander in the sink to drain 30 minutes.
Prepare a medium-hot charcoal grill or gas grill, or preheat a broiler. Position the grill rack or over rack 4 to 6 inches from the heat source. If broiling, lightly oil a large baking sheet and set aside. Or, place a stovetop grilling pan with grids over medium-high heat.
Rinse the eggplant slices under cold-running water and drain well between paper towels.
Brush the eggplant, bell pepper, and onion on all sides with 2 tablespoons of the oil.
Grill or broil the vegetables until browned and tender, working in batches as necessary. As a general rule, cook the bell pepper 3 to 4 minutes per side, and the eggplant and onion 2 to 3 minutes per side. Place the vegetables on a large baking sheet with sides as they finish cooking.
When all the vegetables are done, drizzle with the remaining ½ tablespoon oil and balsamic vinegar, and the sprinkle with salt and pepper. Toss gently with a large spatula to combine. Cover with foil and keep warm while grilling bread.
Grill or broil the bread on both sides until nicely toasted. Divide the vegetables evenly among 4 slices of the bread. Spoon equal portions of the Spinach Pesto Sauce (recipe below) over the vegetables. Top each with a slice of toasted bread and serve at once.
1 cup loosely packed fresh basil leaves
1 cup loosely packed baby spinach leaves
3 large cloves garlic, finely chopped
¼ teaspoon coarse salt, or more to taste
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Combine the basil, spinach, garlic, and salt in a food processor fitted with the knife blade, or in a blender.
Process until finely chopped. Add the oil and process until smooth. If not using immediately, store tightly covered in the refrigerator up to 2 days.
Note from cookbook: This tasty pesto is also wonderful tossed with pasta, gnocchi, boiled potatoes, or steamed vegetables.
Spinach Pesto Nutrition Information
Per serving (about 4 teaspoons)
Total Fat 7g
Sat. Fat 1g
Dietary Fiber 0g
Sandwich Nutrition Information
Protein 9 g
Total Fat 18g
Sat Fat 3g
Dietary Fiber 8g