Grilled eggplant and heirloom tomato panini with chevre and kalamata tapenade

Yay! Summery weekend weather started on Friday, and the lovely log of French goat cheese that’s been languishing in my fridge got its day in the sun. The first good heirloom tomatoes starting showing up in stores, and I was powerless. An eggplant and a loaf of fresh sea salt-rosemary focaccia would complete the train of thought, and this would be dinner.

I marinated the sliced eggplant (salted and left in a sieve in the sink to drain the bitter juices, then squeezed of the last drops of leachate) in a basil-balsamic vinaigrette: olive and walnut oils and balsamic vinegar; Dijon mustard and a drib of mesquite honey; then a good, fat chiff of basil, some flaky Maldon and cracked pepper. I let it soak up every atom of flavor while Scott readied the grill and I worked on the ultimate condiment.

I’m kind of picky about my chèvres – so many of the affordable ones from Trader Joe’s are just like a crumbly cream cheese and lack the depth of tang and grass and goat that distinguishes a good French cheese. Ile de France makes a really nice one that meets my exacting standards. I mashed it with some finely chopped basil, summer savory and a quickie kalamata tapenade (chopped olives with shallots, S&P and a little lemon zest and chile flake) to spread on the toasted focaccia.

We grilled the eggplant (gas flame with some hickory chips in a foil pouch – so much faster and less wasteful for the grilling needs of just two people) until roasty-soft with crispy edges, and then toasted the focaccia over the flame. I soaked the sliced tomatoes in the warm vinaigrette drippings from the eggplant, then assembled the sandwiches.

Just perfect with a lemony mixed spring green salad and sparkling grapefruit juice.