By Angela Denstad Stigeler
What’s in your picnic basket this summer? If you’re looking for something more sophisticated than the usual peanut butter sandwiches, try this oh-so-chic French pique-nique classic: pan bagnat [pan ban-YAH]. Though it may sound strange, it’s a perfect make-ahead meal for hot weather days, full of both fresh and savory flavors. Described as a Niçoise salad on bread, its name in regional dialect means “bathed bread,” referring to the process of how the sandwich is created. Layered together in advance, it’s pressed together for at least several hours, allowing time for the flavors to meld and the juices to soak into the loaf. This extra chilling time in the recipe means you get time to loaf before serving, so you can sit back and enjoy the day. When it’s time to eat, just slice and serve. And a pan bagnat is one incredible PB sandwich to fill your picnic basket and satisfy your more sophisticated summer dining desires.
(Provençal Tuna Sandwich)
1 large round rustic bread loaf, split in half horizontally
3 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more to taste
2 whole roasted red peppers (or 1 jar sliced)
½ of an English cucumber, thinly sliced
½ a small fennel bulb, core removed and thinly sliced
1 large, ripe tomato, thinly sliced
1 5-ounce can of oil-packed dolphin-safe sustainable tuna
1 tablespoon small (non-pareil) capers
2 scallions, thinly sliced
2 hard-boiled eggs, thinly sliced crosswise
8 oil-cured anchovies, drained (optional)
¼ cup salt-cured or Kalamata olives, cut in half or roughly chopped
Freshly ground black pepper
A handful of fresh salad greens (optional)
Open the loaf and pull out some of the soft bread from the center of both sides, making room for the filling, but leaving a sturdy crust. Save the discarded bread for breadcrumbs, thickening a soup, or other purpose.
In a small bowl, combine the Dijon mustard, vinegar and 2 tablespoons olive oil until combined. Brush the inside of the bread shells lightly with the vinaigrette, reserving at least half of the dressing for later. Line a plate large enough to hold the loaf with a large section of plastic wrap, leaving plenty of overhang.
Place the bottom of the bread, cut side up, on the plate. Begin layering the sandwich ingredients onto the bread, starting with a single layer of roasted red peppers. Arrange the cucumber slices, fennel and tomatoes successively. In a small bowl, combine the tuna with the capers and scallions. Spread the tuna mixture out over the vegetables and drizzle with the remaining vinaigrette, to taste. Layer on the egg slices, anchovies and olives. Season to taste with fresh black pepper.
Tuck a handful of fresh salad greens into the upper crust of the bread and position it on top of the sandwich. Press the sandwich down with your palm and begin pulling the plastic wrap overhang up from the sides to wrap the sandwich completely, adding more if necessary. Invert another plate over top the sandwich, place a heavy weight on top, and refrigerate for at least two hours or overnight. Slice into wedges to serve.