Wednesday, August 08, 2007
French Summer Picnic Sandwich
In my much younger days, I spent several summers at the University of Montpellier in the south of France. After morning classes, we would all grab a towel and a bathing suit and take a tiny quaint little train out to the beach at Palavas-les-Flots.
Our first stop would be one of the little stands along the beach selling “real” French fries. Piled up and already par-cooked, they would be thrown into a tub of boiling oil and emerge perfectly crispy. A sprinkle of salt and a twist in piece of waxed paper and we’d be on our way to the next little stand, selling drinks and “pan bagnat.”
This sandwich was a staple of ours. The name means “bathed bread,” or “wet bread.” Crusty French bread rounds would be cut in half, a little of the bread pulled out to make room for the filling and wrapped. Then trays would be set on top and weighted, to allow the juices from the tomato, the oil from the tuna, and a bit of vinaigrette to seep into the bread and the rest of the filling.
So when we planned a cooking class titled “Picnic in Provence,” this was the first thing that popped into my mind. We accompanied it with a salad of haricots verts, the tiny French green beans, tossed in a zesty vinaigrette and sprinkled with shaved red onion and fresh basil. Fresh beans from the farmer’s market would be lovely. Just be sure not to overcook them. They should be just barely crisp-tender.
You can make the sandwich on large crusty rounds, as we did, and cut it into wedges, or on smaller individual crusty rolls if you can find them. A regular sandwich bun or roll would get too soggy to work here.
This is a sandwich that definitely needs to be made ahead for the best flavor, making it perfect for a picnic. If you make the salad, don’t put the dressing on until shortly before serving. It wouldn’t affect the flavor, but the vinaigrette makes the bright green beans a sort of olive drab color after a bit.
So gather a few friends and head out to the park with a perfect French picnic!
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/4 teaspoon each salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup good fruity olive oil
1 large crusty bread round
1 can (6 to 7 ounces) tuna packed in olive oil
1 green pepper, cut into very thin strips
1 small red onion, very thinly sliced
2 eggs, hard-cooked and sliced
1 tablespoon capers, drained
1/4 cup sliced black olives
1 large red ripe tomato, thickly sliced
4 anchovy filets (optional, if you hate them)
1 large handful arugula or baby greens
In a small bowl, whisk together the vinegar, mustard, salt and pepper. Whisk in the olive oil until emulsified. Set aside.
Cut the bread in half horizontally and scoop out some of the insides. Brush the bottom with a bit of the dressing. Layer ingredients as listed, drizzling the remaining dressing on top of it all. Place the top on the bread and wrap tightly in foil or plastic wrap.
Traditionally, this is weighted—a cookie sheet with a couple of cans on it will work well—f or a couple of hours, and not refrigerated. If keeping longer than a couple of hours, refrigerate, then let come back to room temperature before serving if possible.
To serve, cut the bread round into quarters or sixths, as desired.
DRESSING FOR GREEN BEAN SALAD
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1 generous tablespoon Dijon mustard
1/4 teaspoon each ground cumin, ground coriander and ground ginger
1/2 cup good fruity extra-virgin olive oil
Whisk the vinegar, mustard and seasonings together. Add the oil a little at a time, whisking until well emulsified.