Summer has gotta be my favorite season. Besides the beach cruising, the warm-water surf, and the longer hours of daylight, it’s the season when two of my favorite flavors come together so prolifically — sweetly bursting tomato and richly aromatic basil.
This summer I’m growing seven types of tomatoes and eight types of basil, all in different shapes, sizes and colors, and all with subtly different flavor profiles. During my daily harvests I often walk around the garden, pluck ripe tomatoes and basil leaves off the stems, and plop them right into my mouth like a little salad to-go.
For the tomatoes and basil that do make it back into my kitchen, however, I reserve them for my favorite summer sandwich…
The Garden Betty Panini.
The ingredients are deceptively simple, but produce flavors so tantalizing, it’s hard not to scarf the whole thing down in one bite. And this meal represents everything that’s so good, so light, and so fresh about summer.
Consider this a pseudo recipe, as your own unique choices in fixins will make you a summer tomato and basil panini you can call your own.
It starts with my favorite artisan bread, fresh out of the oven. My BFF recently made me a jar of sun-dried tomato tapenade. It was a personal request after the first jar she gave me was inhaled in one sitting. I wanted to make it last longer this time around, so I turned that cup of homemade tapenade into four loaves of home-baked tapenade bread. It’s perfect for bruschetta and, as I delightfully found out, my Garden Betty Panini.
Two slices of bread get all nice and buttered up for the grill.
I smear on my favorite condiment — mayo — although pesto or stone-ground mustard would be divine, too.
I layer on thick slices of ripe, juicy tomatoes — in this case, my tangy and brilliantly colored Ananas Noire heirlooms.
I add a couple large leaves of basil — Mammoth, an Italian lettuce-leaf variety, works well for sandwiches because the leaves can grow as big as your hand, so you only need one or two whole leaves.
I top all that with thin slices of aged Asiago, another slice of tapenade bread, and then grill the concoction in a panini press. I love hearing that satisfying sizzle while the bread is toasting and the cheese is melting into the tomatoes.
I devour this slice of heaven while still standing in the kitchen.
I’m left with greasy fingers and a crumbly plate. I’m happy.
Oh, and trust me — you’ll want to make another one.