Fresh Eggplant and Roasted Red Pepper Panini

12 eggplant slices, each about 1/4-inch thick
freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup olive oil
8 slices Italian bread, 1/4-inch thick
drizzle extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 pound fontina cheese, thinly sliced
2 roasted medium red peppers, peeled, seeded and julienne

Season both sides of the eggplant with salt and pepper. Let sit for 2 minutes. Heat 1/4 cup of the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Pan-fry the eggplant slices, in batches, until golden brown on each side, about 2 to 3 minutes. Remove and drain on paper towels. Using a paper towel, wipe out the skillet and repeat the process with the remaining oil and eggplant.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Lightly brush both sides of the bread with the extra- virgin olive oil. Season both sides with salt and pepper and place on a baking sheet. Place 3 slices of the eggplant over each slice of bread. Lay a couple slices of cheese over the eggplant. Top the cheese with some of the peppers. Place in the oven and bake until the cheese melts, 4 to 6 minutes. Remove from the oven and serve warm.

Yield: 4 servings

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