Americans are the sandwich eaters of the modern world, but food on bread came here with all of us immigrants from all over the world and from centuries of tradition. From the Mideast with chunks of grilled lamb and vegetables wrapped in pita, to Mexico with beans, pulled chicken, corn and salsa in a folded tortilla, to the open faced sandwiches of Scandinavia, to sausages in buns from Germany , Bahn Mi from Vietnam, and so on.
So August, National Sandwich Month, gives us an excuse to celebrate our nation’s marvelous diversity through the sandwich. Here is my favorite—PBJ notwithstanding—a Provençal version of that American soda fountain favorite, the tuna salad sandwich, which, I will confess was my favorite, especially with a chocolate milk shake. Go figure!
I am convinced that the Mediterranean Diet is the healthiest and certainly the most flavorful, so I am eating a lot of Pan Bagnat [Say “Pahn-bahn-yah”], a sandwich ubiquitous throughout Provence, often sold out of food trucks or off hand pushed wooden carts along the beach boardwalks in Nice and Cannes. It is basically a mound of salad on crusty French bread.
Traditionally, it is made on a long baguette by soaking the cut sides of a lengthwise sliced loaf with a an olive oil dominant dressing, then layering the ingredients, closing it up, wrapping it tightly and pressing it under a weighted board.
The beauty of pan bagnat is that it can be—no, should be—made in advance. It gets better with a 12-24 hour stint in the fridge while the flavors and ingredients mingle and marry. The aromatic olive oil and juice of the fresh local tomato soak into the bread and the anchovies dissolve into salt and rich umami. Pan bagnat can use whatever vegetables are on hand. The protein—slices of hard boiled eggs and flakes of canned tuna (or fresh)—give flavor to a host of thin sliced fresh, in season vegetables: tomatoes, rings of green bell peppers, round of cucumber, rings of sweet onion and crispy fennel, basil, capers, and fruity oil cured olives.
1 C flavorful extra virgin olive oil
2 TBS smooth Dijon style mustard
3 TBS each Fresh squeezed lemon juice and red wine vinegar
2 tsp. fresh thyme leaves crushed by hand to release their aroma
1 large clove of fresh garlic crushed in a garlic press
Freshly ground black pepper and salt to taste (remember that you will get some salt from the tuna and anchovies
2 ciabatta lunga, sliced lengthwise
2 12 oz. olive oil packed tuna, drained and flaked so there are no big chunks
4 hard-boiled eggs sliced thin, but not do then they fall apart
1 medium sweet onion, sliced very thin
A medium fennel bulb sliced, very thin
1 medium green or red bell pepper seeded and sliced into thin rings
2 can anchovies drained and separated
1 C Kalamata olives roughly chopped
¼ C capers
- In a medium bowl, whisk together the garlic, thyme, vinegar, lemon juice, mustard. Pour the olive oil in very slowly, whisking vigorously so oil is incorporated. Brush the cut surfaces of the bread generously, covering the surfaces with a layer of the dressing. (Refrigerate any leftover dressing. You may want Pan Bagna later in the week!)
- Now, construct the sandwich. Line anchovies down the middle along bottom halves of cut and dressed loaves, then an even layer of tuna. Top with egg slices and tomato slices. Now layer the thinly cut crisp vegetables—cucumber, onion, bell pepper, fennel. String a line of fresh basil leaves down the center length of the bread. Sprinkle olives and capers evenly and generously over the layered vegetables . Finally place dressed tops of ciabatta lungas on top and push it down, with strength!
- Wrap the sandwiches as tightly as possible in plastic wrap, then in foil. You do not want the delicious juices to escape. In fact, I usually add a clean dish towel to the wrap to soak up any leaks. On top of that, I usually press mine between two cutting boards with large tins of canned tomatoes or a cast iron skillet to weight the top down. Chill 8-10 hours or even overnight. It just gets better!
The name Pan Bagnat means “bathed bread” in Provençale, and the result of all this layering and pressing makes for a moist and scrumptious blend of textures, tastes, and flavors. You can easily make a vegetarian version by eliminating the anchovies and tuna. When I do that I usually add some chilled fresh green beans that have been steamed until just tender.
PAIRING PAN BAGNAT
If you want to make a summer splash at a gathering, make up a couple of loaves of Pan Bagnat. Cut them into 2” slices for a summery, heathy, hors d’oeuvre into and serve a well-chilled 3L box of La Vieille Ferme Rosé. Or take Pan Bagna to pass and a Magnum each of La Vieille Ferme Rosé, Red, or White—something for every guest’s taste and all great examples of the wines of Provence. These are all award winning blends of grapes of the region, all dry and refreshing, made to pair with the cuisine of Provence.
About Roz: During her distinguished career, Roz has served a term as the Retail Representative on the MDA's Michigan Grape and Wine Industry Council and Continues to serve on their Promotion & Education and Competition Committees. In addition, she has served as a judge in various national and international wine competitions.
Working with D&W's wine stewards and SpartanNash's vendor partners, Roz tirelessly explores the vast world of wine, discovering the finest wines for every budget and every taste. And she loves to discuss food and wine with customers and colleagues. As a lifelong foodie, there is nothing else she'd rather be doing.