Basil leaves, whole
French bread loaf
(Decorative toothpicks for topping off the fun sandwiches)
Olive oil (optional for drizzling)
1. Start by prepping and slicing. Slice the tomatoes into rounds, and then cut each one into fourths. This makes them the perfect size and shape to sit nicely on the bread.
2. Cut the loaf into thick slices. The width is important, since the bread gets thinner during the pressing process.
3. Using a larger cookie cutter—you need sturdy pieces of bread to work with—cut stars out of the slices, avoiding the crust.
4. Coat your George Foreman grill with cooking spray so the bread doesn't stick, then simply press down the top of the grill until you have nice marks. Make sure to clean the grill between each batch of stars.
5. If you don't have a George Foreman, use your regular grill. Just make sure to flip the stars to get grill marks on both sides.
6. Grilling the bread before you build the sandwich makes it easier to work with. If you try to make the sandwich and then grill it (like a panini), the insides of the sandwich will come out the sides and you'll lose the star shape. This technique also makes it easier to prep everything in advance—paninis quickly get cold and melted cheese will harden.
7. Start building the sandwiches. Layer tomato, basil, mozzarella, salt and bread. Mozzarella pearls are the perfect size, but if you have bigger balls of mozzarella, just cut them into smaller pieces. Basil can be ripped into the appropriate size. Everything should fit inside the bread (instead of hanging out the edges) in order to retain the star shape.
8. Top off the sandwiches with decorative toothpicks. Red, white and blue are fun for Labor Day, and fit the color scheme of the sandwich and the rest of the meal.