6.04.2013

Never be a couple of sandwiches short of a picnic...


June is here. Which means Summer is this close. Which also means my birthday is coming up*. I like June. June is usually warm enough to comfortably wear tank tops and Summer dresses, even in the evening, without the fear of needing another layer. But June is also not yet the dog days of summer, where one feels the need to hop from one air conditioned space to the next, without ever really being exposed to the outside. June is green, not brown. June is not anticipatory and hopeful, like April and May, or exhausted and wilted like August. Rather, June is confident, pert and happy. June does cartwheels. And June is pleased as punch to be right where it is. In June.

I also think June likes picnics. Don't you think? Not too hot, not too cold, not too mosquito-y, not too humid, not too smoggy. Even Goldilocks would concur, it's just right. And clearly I'm not the only one that feels this way. NPR just had a story about picnicking through the ages last week, I'm seeing picnic-themed foods and the like all over Pinterest, one of my peers had a blurb about gourmet picnics in the most recent Westways, Lucques is having their 'Tennessee Indoor Picnic' in a couple of weeks and I recall last year, exactly at this time, Splendid Table aired a piece about the most perfect, most neat-est, most conceptual picnic sandwich I've ever heard of. This sandwich originated, and is a specialty, in the South of France – Nice, to be exact. It is sold in every bakery and market there. This sandwich is the pan bagnat. Fred and I even made a couple of them to take on our weekend trip to the Santa Ynez Valley for my birthday last year. I have not made one since, but I have never forgotten about the pan bagnat.

It's hard to say which part of the pan bagnat made it so memorable. But if pressed (like the sandwich), I'd have to say it was Melissa Clark's story about it in that Splendid Table piece. Yes, it was an impressive sandwich, but Clark's story was really special. She spoke about being a seven year-old, on family vacations in the South of France. About the daily picnics they would have at the beach, and how her mom would make the most amazing sandwiches. It sounded like a sandwich which originated with the base ingredients of a tuna nicoise salad, but turned into an everything-but-the-kitchen sink sandwich that was stuffed full of ingredients a mile high. Her mom would have she and her sister sit on the wrapped sandwiches, in the car, all the way to the beach so that it would end up with all the salties and juicies, the burst capers, anchovies crammed into a paste, tuna, oil, everything perfectly married in addition to then being flat enough to eat properly.

It just sounded so romantic to me. I always do love a process, a story. And this one comes with the most perfect picnic sandwich I could possibly imagine. One with everything under the sun in it. That sandwich is a picnic.


So last weekend, Fred and I, for the second time, exactly a year apart, made our pan bagnats again and had ourselves a picnic. Since we were not driving to wine country and we didn't have a seven year-old on hand, we opted to weigh our sandwiches down with our biggest, heaviest cast-iron topped with a full tea kettle. Our Sunday picnic menu was as follows:

Pan Bagnat
Dill pickle spears
Potato salad with peperoncini & bacon
Dolmas
Cherries
Fresh squeezed limeade

All of the food ended up being perfect for a picnic. But the pan bagnat was undoubtedly the star. Pan bagnat is literally translated as ' bathed bread' or 'wet bread', and that is an accurate description. When it's ready to eat, the bread has absorbed a lot of the liquid from the filling and all of the ingredients are pressed to form a tight strata with all of those textures and flavors in a perfect union. This sandwich was also a favorite of Julia Child and Jacques Pepîn. You can even watch them make one here. I have to say, I bet the pan bagnat would be a sandwich to make Dagwood himself quite proud.

*I will be accepting birthday gifts all through June. Inquire within for suggestions and ideas.


Pan Bagnat
(recipe inspired by Melissa Clark on The Splendid Table)


Makes one big-ass sandwich that can feeds at least 2


Ingredients

3 anchovy fillets, minced
1 tablespoon capers, chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
1 1/2 teaspoon red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
Pinch of salt and freshly ground pepper
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 baguette
1/2 regular cucumber
1 medium-size, ripe tomato, sliced
¾ roasted red pepper
½ avocado, sliced
½ cup arugula
1/2 small red onion, sliced
1 jar (8 oz) tuna packed in olive oil, drained
8 large basil leaves
4 tablespoons chopped Kalamata olives, pitted
1 hard-cooked egg, peeled and thinly sliced.
Directions

In a small mixing bowl, whisk together the anchovies, garlic, vinegar, mustard, salt and pepper. While continuing to whisk, gradually add the olive oil. Whisk until an emulsion forms.

Peel cucumber & halve lengthwise, and scoop out seeds from one half. Thinly slice seedless half. Add sliced cucumber to vinaigrette and toss well. Set aside.

Coarsely chop the olives and capers, then combine in a small bowl with the minced garlic and set aside.
Slice the baguette horizontally into 2 pieces. Tear out some of the soft bread in the center of each side, making a slight well in the bread.

Spread the olive and caper mixture evenly across the bottom half of the baguette, then spread other half the cucumbers on top. Next up, spread the tuna over that. Top with tomato and onion slices, then with pepper, arugula, avocado, basil, olives & egg slices. Top egg with remaining cucumbers and vinaigrette. Cover with second bread half and firmly smush sandwich together.


Wrap sandwich tightly in foil or plastic wrap, then place in a plastic bag. Refrigerate and weight sandwich under a cast-iron skillet or a pot of water for anywhere from 2 to 8 hours, flipping sandwich occasionally. Unwrap, slice and serve immediately or you can keep it wrapped for up to 2 hours at room temperature before serving.




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