You may have realized by now that most of my food love comes from what I experienced growing up as a child. I have too many “food memories” to count – but I remember them all – sharing simple meals with family and friends, savoring flavours, experiencing new texture (some of them still not my favourite, such as mushrooms – bleeah), inhaling aromas, and enjoying it all mixed together.
Pan Bagnat is one of those memory-evoking foods for me. Pan Bagnat (in Francais: bathed bread) was a meal my parents frequently made for a simple weeknight meal, and I was always in the kitchen ready to slice the vegetables, drizzle the olive oil, wrap the finished product in paper and then “smoosh” the loaf for several hours under a cutting board topped with my dad’s toolbox – really! Ah, the memories!
I never knew until recently, as I was doing some sleuthing on the origins of Pan Bagnat, that it is traditionally made with tuna. As most of my family are vegetarians (or in my case, poultry-a-tarians), we improvised and found our sustinence through our veggie improv.
The recipe we always used can be found in Moosewood Restaraunt Cooks At Home, a wonderful cookbook hosting healthy, natural recipes that are simple to prepare and satisfactory to serve to any dinner guest. I spent much of my ‘cookbook lurking’ time in this book from my mom’s shelf, and just a few days ago, received my very own copy in the mail from…you guessed it, my dad and mom. They could not have found a better birthday gift if they combed the world over! I was thrilled to receive it, and was anxious to crack it open to my favourite and make it for my own family.
For this “portable Salad Nicoise“, here is what you need:
1 baguette or any loaf of good crusty French bread
2 garlic cloves, pressed
Salt and Pepper
4 slices smoked provolone or meunster cheese
1/2 english cucumber, thinly sliced
1/2 red onion, thinly sliced
1 tomato, thinly sliced
1/4-1/2 cup chopped black olives (or calamata)
2 hard boiled eggs, thinly sliced
1 bell pepper, thinly sliced
1/4 cup capers, rinsed and drained
1/2 cup roasted red peppers
1 cup artichoke hearts, sliced
1/2 cup pesto
fresh herbs: basil, thyme, oregano, etc.
arugula or spinach leaves
Slice the bread in half lengthwise and remove just a little of the inside to make a “well” on the bottom half.
On both halves, drizzle olive oil, add salt and pepper and spread garlic.
From this point on, it is completely up to you, the order and type of ingredients you layer here. The variation I made this time went as follows:
Spread a little pesto on the top half and then add 4 slices provolone over that. On the bottom half, layer grated parmesan cheese, spinach and arugula leaves, fresh chopped thyme, cucumbers and red bell peppers, red onions, pepperoncinis, tomatoes and and extra drizzle of olive oil and S&P.
Add the two halves together and wrap tightly first in wax paper and then plastic wrap or foil.
Here comes the fun part: As instructed in the Moosewood Cookbook, “Weight the full length of the Pan Bagnat with a heavy book (or with a baking tray topped with bricks, a 25-pound weight, a toddler, or whatever you can find) for 1 to 3 hours.”
And, “aussitôt dit aussitôt fait” – no sooner said than done!
(how did i do, bea, on my francais?)
We enjoyed this as a picnic dinner in our living room (we even laid out the picnic blanket!) with pickles, homemade baked potato crisps and some amaretto sours.
Another memory made from the kitchen, and well enjoyed.