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.


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.

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Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Sicilian Summer Pasta

It’s summer and the tomatoes are great right now! I love them just eaten out of hand, with a sprinkling of salt. Or sliced, sprinkled with fresh basil and drizzled with balsamic vinegar and a good green fruity olive oil. Or sprinkled with herbs and olive oil and run under the broiler for a moment or two.

And I love them in a fresh tomato sauce, which I had every intention of making for the "Presto Pasta Night Roundup." That’s the one with diced red ripe tomatoes, slivered fresh basil or oregano, diced red onion, a bit of minced garlic, capers, olive oil and a drizzle of either lemon juice or balsamic vinegar. Let it set at room temperature, loosely covered, for the better part of the day, and at dinner time, cook pasta (angel hair is the traditional one to use), toss it, still hot, with the room temperature sauce and some shredded Fontina cheese and enjoy.

I was going to make that, until I came across this in an old edition of Gourmet Magazine, speaking of the multi-starred French chef, Michel Troigros: "…(he) does cold spaghetti with poutargue (pressed tuna roe) in a sweet tomato vinaigrette…" It reminded me of a dish I had in a Sicilian restaurant in Rome several years back, and now is the perfect time to make it.

The cuisine of Sicily uses more "exotic" spices than most Italian food because of the various Mediterranean cultures that have passed through this island at the tip of the mainland "boot." And citrus fruit practically grows wild there. Anyway, I loved the dish and came home and played with it until I got close. Poutargue (or botarga, as it is known in Italy) is not readily available here—and besides it’s expensive and definitely an acquired taste--but seared shrimp make a perfect substitute.

Here’s the menu: A big salad of crisp mixed greens with chunks of peeled seeded cucumber, slivered red onion, black olives, shavings of pecarino romano cheese and a red wine vinaigrette dressing, Sicilian marinated tomato pasta, a loaf of crusty bread and for dessert, store-bought pastry shells topped with jarred lemon curd and berries. Almost everything can be done well in advance, giving you time to enjoy a nice glass of mint iced tea with your friends. How easy could it be?


For the sauce:
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
1 piece fresh ginger, peeled, about 1" square, minced
1 tbsp whole coriander seeds
1 tsp fennel seeds, lightly crushed
1 whole clove, lightly crushed
1 orange
1 lemon
1 pint baby plum tomatoes or grape tomatoes, halved, or 1-1/4 lb tomatoes, cored and cut into chunks
To serve:
12 oz spaghetti, preferably imported
1/2 cup good extra-virgin olive oil
1 lb medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 large clove garlic, very finely minced
12 large leaves basil
The juice of the lemon
The juice of 1/2 the orange

Early in the morning, or even the night before, make the sauce: Dissolve the sugar in the water. Add the ginger, spices and the zest of the orange and lemon, taken off in strips with a vegetable peeler. Add the juice of half the orange. Bring to a boil, remove from the heat and reserve. Put the tomatoes in a glass or ceramic bowl and pour the syrup over the top. Let marinate, covered, up to 8 hours at room temperature, or chill up to overnight. Remove from the fridge to come to room temperature before serving.

When ready to serve, cook the spaghetti in plenty of well-salted boiling water until just barely al dente. Drain, mix with two tablespoons of the olive oil and reserve. Meanwhile, heat half the olive oil in a skillet with the garlic. Cook the shrimp until just barely pink, 2-3 minutes. Lift the tomatoes from the syrup and place in a large warmed serving bowl. Add the rest of the olive oil, a spoonful or two of the syrup (leaving the spices behind) and the lemon and orange juices. Salt and pepper generously. Add the spaghetti and shrimp and toss to combine. Sprinkle with the basil leaves, torn into bits and serve at once, or let cool to room temperature. Serves four as a main course.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Cooling summer soups

 Lordie, isn’t it hot? And there’s nothing better on a hot summer evening than dinner with a cool salad main course. But it can be tough, if you’re entertaining, to come up with an appropriate first course when salad is the dinner. Personally, I love a cold soup in the summer. For some it takes a bit of getting used to; I have friends who think the only good soup is a hot soup! But I think if you try it, you’ll agree that it’s a refreshing and delicious first course.

I’ve chosen two soups with the nuevo latino influence I've been sort of stuck on lately. Neither takes any cooking and either can be prepared in a jiffy with the aid of a food processor or blender. Whip them up in the morning, or even the night before, so they can chill well. Or just keep them in the fridge for a quick refreshing pick-me-up when you come in from the heat!


8 cups diced, seeded watermelon (from half a large melon)
½ cup almond meal*
4 cloves garlic, minced
4 slices firm white bread, torn into chunks
3 tbsp red wine vinegar
3 tbsp fresh lime juice
1 tbsp kosher or coarse sea salt
Fresh ground black pepper, to taste
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
½ cup cilantro, for garnish
Lime wedges, for garnish

Reserve one cup of the diced watermelon. Purée remaining melon with almond flour, garlic and bread. Blend until smooth. Add vinegar, lime juice, salt and a couple of grindings of pepper. With the processor on, add the olive oil in a thin stream, blending until smooth. You may have to do this in two batches. Pour into a glass or ceramic bowl and stir in reserved melon dice. Chill well. Serve in wine or martini glasses rimmed with salt (add a little chili powder to the salt if you like). Sprinkle with the cilantro and garnish each serving with a lime wedge. Serves 6-8 as a first course soup.

*Available at gourmet markets and most natural food stores


1 large cantaloupe, peeled, seeded and diced
½ to 1 jalapeño, with seeds and veins removed, diced
1 cup water
1/3 cup light rum (optional)
Juice and zest of two large limes
1 tbsp minced cilantro, plus more for garnish

Place all ingredients except lime zest and cilantro garnish in a blender or food processor and process until smooth. Transfer to a glass or ceramic bowl. Stir in lime zest and refrigerate covered until very cold. Serve in wine glasses, or flat soup plates, sprinkled with additional finely minced cilantro. Serves 6-8 as a first course soup.
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Spain Hosts Giant Tomato Fight!

Each year in the small Spanish town of Bunyol, on the last Wednesday in August, the world's largest tomato fight takes place.

Begun in 1945, some 250,000 pounds of tomatoes are smashed, trashed and tossed about. You can read more about it here.

So, I'm just thinking, do you think we could up the tourism in Ripley this way? But wouldn't it be a shame to waste all those tomatoes, which I find better than usual this year, by the way.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Video Tour of Chocolate Heaven

I've been roundly chastised for not sharing things I find online that I really like. I know I used to "blog" a lot more, but then I used to have more time to do it!

Chocolate is the new hot health item. We sell an incredible amount of dark chocolate at Mantias. Everyone thinks they're being so IS good for you, you know!

I ran across a series on of videos from Jacques Torres, Chocolatier Extraordinaire, giving lots of information (maybe more than you want) about chocolate. And he's pretty cute, too!

Fine Diner to Riffraff: Tipsy Tales of 4-Star Benders

Somehow this seems more suitable for the National Inquirer than the New York Times! Stories of tipsy customers at some of the very finest New York City restaurants! !