Open-faced Vegetable Sandwich with Walnut Balsamic Pesto

Here's something that you may not know about Alex: he's a sandwich snob. For him, there are sandwiches -- turkey wraps or quick meals that we throw together for lunch -- and then there are sandwiches. The latter requires careful planning and ingredient selection, and precise execution. If I had a nickel for every time I heard him say, "there's nothing worse than a bad sandwich, and nothing better than a great one," I'd have at least 50 cents by now.

This week we're cooking for a real vegetarian (not the cheese and sometimes fish-eating type that we've been spoiled by), so we decided to try to create the best vegetable sandwich we could possibly imagine. It needed to be filling enough to serve as a main course, yet also beautiful and tasty. We ended up assembling roasted vegetables over a walnut pesto on toasted bread, and topping it with cheese for the non-vegetarians. After a moment under the broiler, they looked so pretty and melty.

If you have a grill on hand, feel free to grill the vegetables. Otherwise, it can take a while to cycle all of the vegetables through the oven. Feel free to use store-bought pesto if you have it on hand, and to throw in any other vegetables that you love.

(serves 6)
1/3 cup balsamic vineagar
2/3 cup olive oil
1 tsp sugar
salt and pepper to taste
3 bell peppers, sliced
2 medium-sized eggplants, sliced
3 portabello mushrooms, sliced
2 onions, sliced
6 slices thick bread (we used multi-grain)
gruyere cheese (optional)

(walnut balsamic pesto)
1/4 cup walnuts
1 cup chopped basil leaves
1/2 cup olive oil (or less)
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar (or less)
salt and pepper

Salt the both sides of sliced eggplants well. Place them on a pan lined with paper towels, and cover with additional paper towels. Let sit for 20 minutes. Whisk together oil, vinegar and sugar, and add salt and pepper to taste. Preheat oven to 400. Rinse and dry eggplants, then toss all vegetables in vinaigrette. Place vegetables on a baking sheet, and roast in the oven for about 25-30 minutes. The mushrooms will likely cook in about 20 minutes, so feel free to remove them. To make the pesto, combine walnuts and basil leaves in a food processor with olive oil and vinegar. Process until smooth, salt and pepper to taste. Toast slices of bread if you like, then spread pesto over it. Top with roasted vegetables (there may be extras). If you like, sprinkle cheese on top, or assemble thin strips in a cross-hatch design. Broil for about 2 minutes, until cheese melts.