When we talk about meal prep, a lot of times we focus on complete meals–perfectly portioned containers of food or casseroles that can be made in advance and frozen until later. But one of my favorite foods to prep are all those little components you can use to build a quick meal when you’re ready to eat. This Fresh Mozzarella and Roasted Red Pepper Panini is the perfect example
While you can purchase roasted red peppers in jars at the grocery store, I much prefer making my own and freezing or refrigerating them. They taste more like fresh bell pepper; they’re less water-logged and you can get a nice char on them when you make the at home.
In the summer, you can char them over the grill and if you have a gas stove, you might even set them directly on the burner (personally, this makes me nervous!), but most of the time, I broil them until they’re blackened on all sides, remove them from the oven and transfer them to a bowl, which I then cover with a plate.
This helps steam them a bit so the skin peels off nicely. Once you’ve removed the skin, take out the stem and seeds, slice the rest, and keep them on hand for whenever you need them.
And then there’s my other favorite thing to have on hand: pesto! All kinds of pesto! Whenever I have leftover herbs or greens, or an abundance of them from our CSA box, I whip up a pesto. You really don’t need a recipe to do this either–start with the herbs or greens, add nuts or seeds (hemp seeds are especially good!), oil, and salt and pepper to taste. Parmesan cheese is a nice addition if you eat it or use nutritional yeast if you don’t; sometimes a squeeze of lemon juice is good too, particularly with greens and parsley
When you have both the roasted red peppers and arugula-walnut pesto on hand, these sandwiches come together in minutes. The only other ingredients you need are a quality mozzarella and some crusty bread. Because this Fresh Mozzarella and Roasted Red Pepper Panini recipe tastes good hot or cold, you can make them for a quick dinner or make them the night before for a grab-and-go work lunch.
Photos by Ana Stanciu
Fresh Mozzarella and Roasted Red Pepper Panini with Arugula-Walnut Pesto
For the Arugula-Walnut Pesto:
- 2 cups packed arugula leaves
- 1/3 cup toasted walnut pieces
- 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
- 1 clove garlic
- 2-3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- Salt and pepper to taste
For the panini:
- 2 large red bell peppers
- 1 large loaf ciabatta bread cut in quarters and then halved lengthwise (or 4 ciabatta rolls)
- 1 batch Arugula Pesto
- 1 8-ounce ball fresh mozzarella cheese, cut into 8 slices
- Olive oil
To make the pesto:
- Combine the arugula, walnuts, cheese, and garlic in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until the mixture is finely chopped, then pour olive oil through the feed tube and continue to process until smooth. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
To make the panini:
- Preheat oven to 500ºF or broil.
- Line a sheet pan with foil. Place the peppers on the pan and broil them until the skin begins to char, turning occasionally, about 10 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and using oven mitts, wrap the foil around the peppers. Steam the peppers in the foil for 10 minutes.
- Carefully remove the peppers from the foil and transfer them to a cutting board to cool slightly. Once they're cool enough to work with, peel off the skin, cut off the stem, scrape out the seeds, and discard them. Cut the rest of the peppers into thick strips.
- Spread the pesto onto the bottom halves of the bread. Divide the pepper strips over the pesto, then place the mozzarella on top of the pepper. Top with the remaining slices of bread and brush the tops with olive oil.
- Heat a grill pan or griddle over medium heat. Flip the sandwiches over and place them on the grill pan oiled-side down, then brush the other side of the sandwich with oil. Use a spatula to press the sandwiches down slightly. Cook 5-8 minutes on each side, or until the bread is toasted and golden brown and the cheese is melted.