Summertime, with its good weather and long light evenings, always means more spontaneous meals with friends. The past few days we’ve had plenty of them because my sister and I and a couple of girlfriends took all our many children to some nice little cabins by a beach on an island. We worked hard all day–the pool! the beach! the playground! roasting marshmallows!–and collapsed at the shady picnic tables at the end of each day for a small feast together. (Although “collapsed” may be wishful thinking here; moms traveling alone with a contingent of young children rarely get to “collapse” for more than two consecutive minutes, I’ve learned.)
One of my favorite strategies for feeding a hungry crowd is to slice a baguette or two in half lengthwise, stuff it full of delicious things, and cut it into many pieces. Serve a few salads alongside and voila, an easy dinner for as many people as you need to feed. (Bonus points if you give the kids popsicles for dessert so they can run off and get sticky while the grown-ups linger over another drink.)
The classic caprese combination (tomato, mozzarella, basil) makes one of my favorite sandwiches. I find that some versions can get a little dry, though, so I juice mine up by using pesto instead of basil leaves and a generous drizzle of balsamic vinegar.
The order of assembly is important here: pesto on the bottom half of the bread, please, and vinegar on the top, so that the vinegar soaks down into the tomatoes, which should be on top of the cheese, which collaborates with the pesto to keep the bottom piece of bread from getting soggy. Got that? Top to bottom inside your baguette: balsamic vinegar, tomato, fresh mozzarella, good basil pesto. Yes, I spend time thinking about these kinds of things. I can admit it here because I know that you do, too. That’s why I’m glad we’re friends.
Tomato, Pesto, and Mozzarella Sandwich: Slice a baguette in half lengthwise, but don’t cut all the way through; leave a little bit at the edge to act as a hinge and hold it all together. Scoop out some of the interior crumb if it’s thick, saving the bread guts to make rough croutons or breadcrumbs. Slather the bottom half of the bread with a good basil pesto, then layer on thick slices of fresh mozzarella and tomato. Douse the top half of the bread with good balsamic vinegar. Close, slice, and serve.