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Posted on Nov 4, 2013 | 2 comments

Pressed Vegan Sandwich

Pressed Vegan Sandwich

It’s almost winter and I’m sharing with you an amazing vegan sandwich full of summer squash. What’s wrong with me, you ask? Why would you post such a gloriously beautiful rainbow of produce when it’s actually SNOWING in the Midwest? Because I live in Los Angeles and it’s currently 75 degrees and sunny. Don’t hate. I know we are blessed here with 80 degree Christmases and whatnot.

But what rocketed this sandwich into my mind today was the bag full of perfect zucchini and yellow squash I picked up. That, and my basil plant has taken over the front porch. Seriously. I went to get my mail earlier and the thing practically lunged at me. It wanted to be eaten. And what better way to use up your mutantly-large (not a word, I know) basil crop than pesto???

As an FYI, apparently the secret to mutant basil is properly trimming the leaves. I finally learned how, in case anyone cares, and it is terrifying how strong those little plants are.

They go from this:


To this, frighteningly fast:


And then they somehow need an even bigger pot because they’re spilling out the sides and chomping at you when you get your mail.

ANYWAY. The rest of the sandwich should come together easily any time of year. Just grab a bell pepper, red onion, some olives (canned will work fine in a pinch), and garlic. You can easily scale this bad boy down to serve one or two–just use a small baguette and have leftover grilled veggies with pasta tomorrow.

Mmm, pasta.

The beauty of this sandwich is… well… it’s delicious. And it’s gorgeous. And it’s fast and easy and makes for a badass presentation. And your vegan guests won’t feel deprived. And they’ll love you for serving them something other than salad. And you can make it ahead! The morning-of, the night before. Unlike other sandwiches, you WANT this bread to absorb all the flavor of the garlicky pesto and briny olive tapenade. I assure you it will not become a congealed slimy mess.

This recipe comes to you courtesy of my brain, and was born out of necessity when entertaining some last-minute vegans at a BBQ back in July. By “last-minute-vegans,” I mean this couple was coming to my BBQ and decided the day before to go vegan and informed me the morning-of. I was already planning on making quite a few accidentally vegan side dishes, but as a former vegan and someone who’s spent most of my life as a vegetarian, there’s just something nice about having a real main course set in front of you. And I was not about to serve Boca or Garden Burgers. No, no, no, no, no! I forbid it.

Veggies are where it’s at, and this sandwich is chock full of them in their (arguably) greatest form–GRILLED! This entire sandwich DISAPPEARED within 5 minutes of setting it out at that BBQ. The meat eaters opted for vegan sandwich over sirloin burgers, bacon, and hot dogs, which I found fascinating. I may have even been standing in the kitchen, watching with an evil grin. Because I like when meaty men eat their veggies.

Am I scaring you yet?

…And we’re off, with a step-by-step tutorial. In case you need visuals for spreading and layering.

First, split your ciabatta (or baguette) in half and spread one side with your homemade pesto, the other with the tapenade:


Layer with your grilled yellow squash:


Your grilled zucchini: photo3

The grilled red onion: photo4

And the roasted pepper: photo5

Sandwich together and wrap the whole thing in plastic wrap, then in aluminum foil:


Stop and marvel at the rainbow coming through your kitchen window. This sandwich is admiring its reflection. Because it’s totally sexy:


Place the wrapped loaf in the fridge for at least an hour, and up to a day ahead to let the flavors meld. Weight it down lightly with a few cans of soda or jars on top of a baking sheet. Slice into manageable pieces just before serving.

Here was the spread at our BBQ in July. Please note this photo was taken on my iPhone seconds after plating all the food. There were maybe 3 couples attending–only 2 vegans–and 10 slices of the sandwich on that platter. The last few disappeared as soon as I snapped this. And I had been worried about having  extras…



Despite being in the midst of autumn, if you can get your hands on some summer squash and basil, give this ‘wich a try for a wonderfully healthy lunch, or next time you have vegans over for a casual supper. Ciabatta works well here–You can make your own if you’re feeling all ambitious, but today I just picked one up from a local bakery for all of $3.

Today I also opted for a grill pan on the stove instead of firing up ol’ smokey outside. And everything was okay.

VEGAN PRESSED SANDWICH — Makes 8-10 small servings, or 4-6 large

Recipe from

Please note this sandwich can be deliciously enhanced with a spread of goat cheese or a layer of fresh mozzarella if you aren’t vegan. Some cheese ain’t never hurt nobody.

I make everything but the bread from scratch in this recipe, but if you are PRESSED for time (see what I did there? Okay, just shh), you could crack open a few jars and cans. The pesto, olive tapenade, and roasted peppers can all be purchased pre-made, though I must admit I’ve never found a decent pesto in a jar. They really are simple to whiz up in a food processor, but hey, I won’t try to convince you. I’ve included recipes for vegan pesto and tapenade for you to try, or sub your own.

  • 3/4 cup or more pesto (recipe follows)
  • 3/4 cup or more olive tapenade (recipe follows)
  • 1 red bell pepper
  • 2 yellow summer squash
  • 2 zucchini
  • a few rings of red onion
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • freshly ground pepper
  • 1 loaf fresh ciabatta
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

1. Make your pesto and tapenade and refrigerate until ready to use. (Or, just crack open some jars).

2. Preheat grill or broiler, or turn burner on gas stove to medium-high heat. Char bell pepper all over, checking on it often and turning once each side becomes black. I prefer to do this on the stovetop, as it’s easy and I can keep an eye on it. Once it’s charred all over, place in a bowl and cover tightly with plastic. Let steam for 10 minutes, then remove pepper and slip peel off with your hands or a towel. It should rub right off. Stem and seed the pepper, then slice into 1″ strips. Set aside.

3. Preheat grill or grill pan over medium heat. Slice squash and zucchini into 1/4″ planks lengthwise, and brush or rub lightly with olive oil. Season with pepper. Grill for a few minutes on each side, until squashes are softened and have grill marks. Add onions to grill and cook, flipping once, until slightly softened. Set veggies aside.

4. Place a long length of aluminum foil on a work surface, and then cover with two pieces of plastic wrap laid in a cross-type shape. Slice your ciabatta in half lengthwise and place on plastic. Spread one side generously with pesto, the other with tapenade. Layer your veggies: squash, zucchini, onion, peppers. Add your cheese, if using. Drizzle the whole thing with the vinegar, replace ciabatta top, and wrap tightly with plastic and then foil. Place loaf in fridge, with a baking sheet on top, and several cans or bottles on top of that.

Chill for at least one hour, or overnight. When ready to serve, slice into wedges.


Basil Pesto (Vegan) — Makes about 1 cup

  • 2 cups packed basil leaves
  • 1 small clove garlic
  • squeeze of lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup nuts of your choice (walnuts are what I tend to use, for price and availability)
  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste

Pulse basil, garlic, lemon, and nuts in food processor until combined and garlic is chopped. Drizzle olive oil in a steady stream, and process until you reach desired consistency. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

You can store extra pesto in a container in the fridge. Just pour a layer of olive oil over the top to prevent oxidation or discoloration, and seal it up tightly.
Olive Tapenade (Vegan) — Makes about 1 cup

  • 4 oz. black olives
  • 1 small clove of garlic
  • small handful of parsley
  • pinch of red pepper flakes
  • 1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons lemon juice
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • freshly ground pepper

Pulse olives, garlic, parsley, red pepper, vinegar, and lemon juice in food processor until mixed but still chunky. Drizzle in olive oil and pulse a few more times. Season to taste with pepper (you won’t need salt–the olives are salty enough).

You can store extra tapenade in a container in the fridge. Just pour a layer of olive oil over the top to prevent oxidation or discoloration, and seal it up tightly.


  1. Wrap sandwich tightly in plastic or foil and place a heavy object on top to press it at room temperature for around 4 hours, or up to overnight in the fridge.

  2. The pressed ones are great. I love the way all the flavors meld and seep into the bread. That, plus the different textures make a good sandwich a complete meal, in my view. I often put them in the hot press, just to amp up the entire affair. I m with you on the veg, although Bart always prefers some meat.

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