On sunny summer days of this, I can easily picture myself strolling the winding narrow cobblestone roads of Nice on the southern coast of France. Wearing a shabby straw hat, and dark glasses, I greet the greengrocers, fishmongers, bakers, and butchers while perusing their provisions at the outdoor market.
Since it is such a glorious day, I will play hookey from responsibilities and head for a light luncheon on the shore. From a favored stall, I treat myself to the local specialty: Pan Bagnat. Literally “bathed bread”. Yes, it is a sandwich, but much more, really.
Pan Bagnat is perfect picnic fare. It is made in advance and it travels well, as there is no dairy involved. The longer it sits the better it gets (some say up to twenty-four hours, I have never waited that long). The flavors wed, the oil and tomato juices mingle, the anchovies dissolve into the bread and all of it coalesces into a sophisticated whole that stays intact when you bite in.
Pan Bagnats can be a catchall for whatever vegetables are on hand: crisp hot and sweet peppers, fennel, cucumber, and scallions. Even string beans, peas, and fava beans can all work.
An integral part of the preparation of a Pan Bagnat is weighing it down and smushing it. Ideally, a seven-year-old human being is perfect for this step. However, if one does not have such a youngster on hand, I do offer an alternative.
Historically, the Pan Bagnat was packed each morning by the wives of sea-going fishermen for their midday meal. The ingredients remain thrifty but can be upgraded for special occasions. Good salmon can easily replace the tuna! But, a good tinned tuna is often just as delicious. I am not writing of Chicken of the Sea here, but instead, a high-quality variety packed in oil.
Along with a a bottle of good water, or wine if you prefer, packed in a gunnysack or in a hamper along with some fresh fruit and cheese, you’ve got an alfresco meal to be shared and enjoyed just about anywhere with a good view!
Makes one sandwich, which serves two
2 anchovy fillets, minced (optional)
1 very small garlic clove, minced
1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
½ teaspoon Dijon mustard
Pinch of salt and freshly ground pepper
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 8-inch round crusty country loaf or small ciabatta, halved
1 Kirby cucumber or 1/2 regular cucumber
1 medium-size, ripe tomato, sliced
½ small red onion, sliced
1 jar (5 to 6 ounces) tuna packed in olive oil, drained
8 large basil leaves
2 tablespoons sliced pitted olives, preferably a mix of black and green
1 hard-cooked egg, peeled and thinly sliced
In a small bowl, whisk together the optional anchovies, the garlic, vinegar, mustard, salt, and pepper. Slowly drizzle in oil, whisking constantly.
If using a country loaf, pull out some soft interior crumb to form a cavity. If using a ciabatta, you won't need to eliminate anything.
If using a Kirby cucumber, slice thinly. If using a regular cucumber, peel, halve lengthwise and scoop out seeds from one half. Thinly slice seedless half. Add sliced cucumber to the vinaigrette and toss well.
Spread half the cucumbers on bottom of the bread. Top with tomato and onion slices, then with tuna, basil, olives, and egg slices. Top egg with remaining cucumbers and vinaigrette. Cover with second bread half and firmly press the sandwich together.
Wrap sandwich tightly in foil, waxed paper or plastic wrap, then place in a plastic bag. Put sandwich under a weight such as a cast-iron frying pan topped with a filled kettle, or have a child about 7 years old sit on it. Weight sandwich for 7 to 10 minutes, then flip and weight it for another 7 to 10 minutes (or as long as you can get the child to sit still). Unwrap, slice and serve immediately, or keep it wrapped for up to 8 hours before serving.