Grilled Chicken and Bell Pepper Sandwich

After high school, I took a job as a dishwasher at a local rustic mediterranean restaurant.  Soon after starting, I wound up as a pseudo sous chef, helping the two owners with the simpler tasks in their tiny kitchen.  Other than cutting all the french fries by hand, wrapping bacon around scallops, and making the ever so delicious fish and chips for lunches (still the best fish and chips I've ever had!), I would occasionally roast and peel red bell peppers.  It was so simple.  We just threw one on the burner, waited for it to turn black, then rotated the next bright red portion down into the flames until the entire thing was charcoal colored and started to crack.  We'd take it off the burner and throw it directly into a bowl, covering it with plastic wrap, letting it sweat and the skin separate from the meat.  The first time I ever pulled back the plastic wrap and started pulling off the blackened skin, my nose exploded.  I had never been a bell pepper kinda guy, but that changed right then.  When the scent of the warm pepper wafted up into my nose, I knew the idea of what a sandwich could be had just changed forever.  Its funny how smell and memory are so closely connected.  Every time I smell a roasted bell pepper now, it takes me right back to that moment and I feel like I'm peeling back that plastic for the first time. The sandwich at the restaurant was served with soft mozzarella on rustic house made bread with balsamic vinegar - I can't remember more than that, except that it was absolutely delicious.  Ever since then, I've wanted to revisit the roasted bell pepper sandwich.

This is what we have created:

From roasting the pepper to toasting the bread, everything was cooked on our small charcoal grill. It just makes anything taste that much better. We also made our own pesto aioli to smear on the ciabatta bread. Fresh spinach from full circle farm and some provolone rounded it out nicely. It was delicious; crispy on the outside, stuffed to the brim with flavor on the inside.  I think next time I would add even more aioli.

// Roasted Bell Pepper and Chicken Sandwich // Serves 4
There's quite a few steps to this recipe, but it actually comes together pretty quickly. Don't skimp on the grilling part, it makes a huge difference in flavor and texture. If you absolutely must (or simply want a satisfying sandwich in the middle of winter), you could probably broil the bread until toasty and roast the chicken in the oven.

Juice from 1 lemon 
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced 
2 teaspoons each fresh thyme and oregano 
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes 
Liberal amount of salt and pepper 
2 medium chicken breasts 

Basil Aioli
1 small garlic clove, minced
1 egg yolk, room temperature
2 teaspoons lemon juice 
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup safflower oil
1/3 cup packed fresh basil, minced
salt to taste

1 loaf of panini bread or other delicious looking sourdough sandwich bread
2 red bell peppers, roasted on grill
8 large basil leaves
1 cup fresh spinach
4 slices of provolone

1. In a large ziplock bag, pound the chicken breasts until slightly flattened, about 3/4". We just used the bottom of an olive oil bottle 

2. Combine all of the marinade ingredients in the ziplock bag with the chicken, making sure the chicken is well coated. Set aside for at least 1/2 an hour

3. For the basil aioli, whisk together the minced garlic, egg yolk, and lemon juice in a small bowl. Combine the oils in a glass measuring cup and slowly dribble the oil into the egg mixture, whisking continuously. You want to start off with a few drops of oil at a time and whisk until completely emulsified. This prevents the aioli from "breaking". Once you've added about half of the oil to the bowl you can pour a little more generously, but still whisking continuously. After oil is all incorporated, whisk in fresh basil. Add salt to taste

4. Get the grill nice and hot and grill the bell peppers until the skin turns black and crackles, rotating as necessary. Place the peppers in a deep bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Set aside

5. Grill the chicken on both sides until done 

6. Cut the bread into four sandwich-sized pieces. Slice each piece in half lenthwise. Lightly brush olive oil on each half and grill until toasty and slightly blackened

7. Remove the skin from the bell peppers and cut bell pepper into halves, discarding seeds

8. To assemble: spread the basil aioli equally onto each piece of bread. Slice each chicken breast in half lenthwise so you have four pieces. Add one piece to each sandwich. Add bell pepper, basil leaves, spinach, and provolone. Eat!