Caprese Panino

Servings: 6 to 8

2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

1 teaspoon dried oregano

1 tablespoon fresh oregano (roughly chopped)

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

3 vine-ripe tomatoes (cores removed, thinly sliced into rounds)

1 loaf ciabatta (cut lengthwise, cut into 6-inch pieces)

2 balls buffalo mozzarella (about 8 ounces each, sliced)

For the basil pesto:

2 cloves garlic (peeled)

2 1/2 cups basil leaves

2 tablespoons pine nuts (raw)

1/4 cup olive oil

1/4 cup Parmesan-Reggiano cheese (freshly grated)

Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat a grill pan or panini maker to medium heat.

In a large bowl, add the red wine vinegar, dried oregano, fresh oregano, olive oil, salt and pepper, and mix to combine. Add the tomatoes and toss to coat. Set aside.

To make the pesto, start by chopping the garlic in a food processor. Add the basil and pine nuts, and pulse until the basil and nuts are coarsely chopped, then process until finely chopped. With the food processor running, drizzle in the olive oil. The pesto should be slightly chunky and not too wet. Add the grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, and pulse an additional few times until just combined. Season to taste with salt and pepper and set aside.

To build the sandwiches, lay out a top and bottom piece of ciabatta with the insides facing up. Spread pesto on both slices of the bread. On the bottom piece, add a few slices of mozzarella and then the tomato slices. Top with the bread.

Brush the outside of the sandwich with olive oil. Place on preheated panini maker and or grill pan. Cook until golden brown or until the cheese has slightly melted, about 3 to 5 minutes. Continue building the sandwiches with remaining ingredients. Serve at once while they’re still warm.

There’s a reason why you’ll find a Caprese panino at every autogrill in Italy. This classic combination of tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, pesto and crusty ciabatta bread is undeniably delicious, especially during the summer months when tomatoes are at the height of their season.

Finding the perfect tomato, slowly ripened in the sun, is a beautiful thing. At home in New York, I love buying tomatoes from Tim Stark of Eckerton Hill Farm (in Fleetwood, Pa.) at the Union Square Farmers’ Market. Perhaps it is because I met him around the same time that I met Susi (at the time, my soon-to-be wife). But I have always had a soft spot for Tim’s amazing tomatoes and he has never let me down in 25 years, providing perfection in pomodori.

To dress these tomatoes, I use the Batali family touch: A mixture olive oil, oregano and red wine vinegar makes them magic. This elixir-like marinade delivers just the right amount of acidity and is an herbaceous layer that I love on a panino.

Making a homemade pesto is absolutely worth it here; and if you have the time and muscle, I recommend using a mortar and pestle. My tip to a great pesto (besides purchasing the most fragrant local basil that you can get your hands on) is using Mediterranean pine nuts, which are longer and more oval in shape than the triangular variety from Asia. These pignoli pack a major punch of flavor, and I like to purchase an extra bag or two and store them in the freezer. This trick also prevents the nuts from turning rancid quickly, which can happen due to their naturally high oil content.

Buffalo mozzarella is my go-to cheese, as it’s slightly sweeter and milkier than a mozzarella made with cow’s milk. The cheese should be floating in a slight amount of milky liquid, the whey, which is an indication of freshness. Choosing a fresh buffalo mozzarella over the dry, pre-packaged kind will allow for a picturesque ooze of cheese that we all find dreamy when slicing into a warm panino. Serve this sandwich for a casual summertime lunch. No judgement if you serve it all season long.

Mario Batali is the chef behind 25 restaurants, including Eataly, Del Posto and his flagship Greenwich Village enoteca, Babbo.

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