NJ Caprese Panini
Today has been an absolutely lovely day.  After a record-breaking July of near 100° temps, the Lord blessed, and we welcomed August with a bright, breezy 73° morning {WHAAAT!!!!!}.  I made the most of it with a mid morning long run followed by a short walk around the neighborhood and a stretch/recover session on my front lawn. (It was so lovely I didn’t want to go indoors.)
After a shower and quick wash-n-go for the hair, the family joined in on my weekly trip to the Farmer’s Market.
Red Stick Farmer's Market
NJ walking the Red Stick Market with kids
 We had arrived about a ½ hour before the close and pickings were a bit slim.  Many of the merchants had sell outs.  The variety and volume of local produce are scaling down as we approach the end of the Louisiana summer growing season. A farmer shared that July’s heat hit the crops hard, and production was further affected.  I chatted with LSU AG Center reps about when to start fall vegetable planting. Mid-September was their recommendation. {Whew!}  I also picked up a few eggplant and peppers at a good price – thankful to get what I could get while the getting is good.
This week, the eggplant will be used in baba ganoush for me.  For the peppers, I’m thinking roasted and stuffed with Cajun sausage dirty rice for Will and the kids tomorrow.
When we got home, I took a good look at what remains in my garden. The in-ground bed vegetable bed didn’t make it. In my above the ground bed, the tomato plants (left side of picture below) are fried, but the basil nearing its end continues to flourish. 
The fragrance grabbed me so, I grabbed a few sprigs of basil and a big rock and headed in to make lunch – a Caprese panini.
Caprese is a typically a layering of slices of fresh tomato, mozzarella and basil leaves seasoned with olive oil and salt.  The combo is simple, and the flavors go together perfectly. It is delicious as a salad, in a sandwich or on a pizza.  I enjoyed a Caprese inspired salad a few weeks ago when cherry tomatoes were growing like crazy in my garden. Since I was working with cherry tomatoes, instead of the traditional method of layering slices with full leaves of basil, I cut/cubed the tomatoes and basil and tossed it with a basil garlic oil.  It was YUM!  
NJ Caprese Salad
This morning’s workout had me starving so I wanted something more substantial, and decided to use basil garlic oil as a spread in a Caprese inspired panini. 
Here is how it came together.
Beefsteak tomato
Fresh basil (1 ½ – 2 cups)
Mozzarella cheese
Olive oil
Kosher salt
2 cloves garlic
Piece of sourdough bread
…and a big rock
Fill a mini food processor with washed basil leaves. Add 2 cloves of garlic and a pinch of kosher salt.
NJ Basil and Garlic
 Put on the lid and while pulsing, through the hole in the top, stream in olive oil (3-4 tablespoons) till the contents becomes a coarse mixture. Set aside.  
NJ Basil Garlic Oil Spread
(Note:  This makes a good amount of spread. Store the excess in the fridge and use in salad dressings, marinades or to bump up a sauce.  It is extremely flavorful and versatile).

If you own a panini press, preheat it.   Otherwise, heat a cast-iron or other heavy skillet over medium heat. Thinly slice tomato and season with salt and pepper.  Slice the mozzarella cheese. 
Cut the bread in half horizontally, scoop out and discard some of the insides of the bread. (This step is optional. I prefer a lower bread to innards ratio in my sandwiches. When the bread or roll is thick, I scoop much of the middle of the bread out.)
NJ Caprese Panini almost ready to grill
Spread the basil garlic oil on the insides of both pieces of bread.  Now build the sandwich with the cheese on the bottom piece of bread, add tomato slices, and then the top piece of bread.  
If you have a panini press, go at it.  Otherwise, brush a small amount of olive oil in the heated skillet, place the sandwich and then weight it down.  Use a sandwich press, another heavy skillet or my standby, a brick or garden rock (washed and wrapped in aluminum foil). 
NJ Caprese Panini on the grill
Cook until the bottom begins to brown and the cheese starts to melt. Flip and continue to cook until the crust gets as crunchy and the inside gets as gooey as you desire.
NJ Caprese Panini

NJ Caprese Panini close up

The basil garlic oil adds such a punch of flavor.  This sandwich is lovely.  Give it a try.

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