Italian BLT Panini with Pesto Mayo

When you can get your hands on a juicy tomato, you need to treat it right.  All of those mealy, hothouse tomatoes that are pushed on us by the grocery store are great for tossing, but that’s about it.  But then there’s that slim window of time where you can get your hands on heirloom tomatoes in a rainbow of colors, bumpy and rough on the outside, brimming with translucent tart juice in the center.  When the planets align and the gods deem you worthy of an incredible tomato, you’d better recognize and step up to the plate.

So what to do when you’re staring at a mess of mediocrity and you are craving tomatoey goodness?  Maybe it’s time to hit up a sundried tomato.  Their jammy flavor is concentrated into bitty, tender bites that can be used to great effect on sandwiches and panini.  I tuck mine into this riff on a BLT sandwich, leveraging spicy arugula and crispy pancetta as stand-ins for the bacon and lettuce.  Slather the whole shebang in a little pesto mayo and you are in for a serious treat.  So much so that you may even forget the length of time until your next dance with the perfect heirloom tomato.

Italian BLT Panini with Pesto Mayo

Serves: 4
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Total Time: 25 minutes

4 tbs. of mayonnaise
1 1/2 tbs. of homemade or jarred pesto
6 oz. of sliced pancetta rounds (about 16 slices)
8 slices of bread, preferably a sourdough pullman loaf
1/2 c. of sundried tomatoes in olive oil
2 c. of arugula, loosely packed
8 slices of provolone cheese
2 tbs. of olive oil

In a small bowl, stir together the mayo and pesto.  Cover with cling wrap and refrigerate.

Preheat the oven to 450°.  Line a cookie sheet with foil and place the pancetta directly on the foil, making sure not to overlap the slices.  Place in the oven and cook until the slices crisp up like bacon, about 15 minutes.  Remove the pancetta from the oven and place the slices on a paper towel-lined plate.

Now, to assemble the panini – grab your pesto mayo and your bread.  Place a slice of the pullman loaf on a cutting board and spread with a bit of the mayo.  Top with 4 of the pancetta slices and a quarter of the sun-ripened tomatoes.  Carefully place a quarter of the arugula on the pancetta and tomatoes, and top with two slices of the provolone.  Spread pesto mayo on another slice of bread and top the sandwich, mayo side down.  Repeat with the remaining ingredients, making four sandwiches total.

Brush a grill pan, an outdoor grill or a panini press with olive oil and heat on high.  When warm, place the sandwiches on the grill and cook over medium-high heat until the cheese is melty and the bread toasted on both sides, about 5-6 minutes.  Remove from grill and let sit for one minute before cutting into triangle halves.  Serve.

Note: This sandwich is equally good served cold for a traditional BLT experience.  Just make sure to still cook the pancetta first.