Pan Bagnat: Memories of France

By Sandy Hu
The latest from Inside Special Fork

Chris didn’t get to go on many picnics. When Steve and I lived in New York City, we went on picnics in Central Park all the time. It was a cheap outing and a chance to get outdoors, living as we did in a high-rise apartment in a concrete and steel city.

When David was little, we lived in a condominium in San Francisco and escaped to Golden Gate Park with a picnic hamper. But by the time Chris came along, we lived in a house with a small yard that satisfied our need for the outdoors. No picnics.

The only time we did picnic as a family was on our travels. And some of our best picnic meals were enjoyed in Provence, where outdoor food markets offered a variety of high-quality and inexpensive fixings for budget meals.

One of my favorite picnic meals in the South of France was pan bagnant. While the fillings varied from one vendor to another, a few things were standard: canned tuna, olive oil and vinegar dressing, and hardy bread to soak in all the flavors after the sandwich had been pressed down with a weight.

Now that summer is here, I’m making pan bagnat to eat on my not-so-warm deck in San Francisco, pretending to be once again enjoying the dry heat of Provence. While this sandwich lends itself to many variations – you can add sliced cucumber, drained marinated artichokes, arugula, anchovies – the ingredients I find essential are slices of tomato, kalamata olives and hard-cooked eggs. It’s like a Salade Niçoise in a sandwich.

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Pan Bagnat
1 baguette, 18 inches long
2 cans (5 or 6 ounces each) good-quality tuna packed in olive oil
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1/2 cup pitted kalamata olives, drained and sliced
Olive oil, as needed
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
12 large basil leaves
1 small red pepper, sliced into rings
1/2 small sweet onion, thinly sliced
2 hard-cooked eggs, sliced
1 medium tomato, sliced

Slice baguette in half lengthwise. Use fingers to hollow out both halves of the baguette, leaving a wall about 3/4- to 1-inch thick. This will leave you with a “ditch” in which to pack your filling.

Drain tuna and reserve oil. Add tuna to medium bowl with vinegar and kalamata olives. Measure reserved oil. Return 3 tablespoons of the reserved oil to the tuna. If you don’t have enough oil, make up the difference with regular olive oil. Mix to blend. Season with salt and pepper.

Line the bottom half of the bread cavity with two layers of basil leaves. Top with tuna mixture, packing it in and spreading evenly along the loaf. Top with a layer of red pepper rings, onion slices, hard-cooked eggs and tomatoes, lightly seasoning with a little salt and pepper after each layer. Cover with top half of the bread, pressing gently to contain the filling.

Wrap the sandwich tightly in plastic wrap, put it on a plate or small baking sheet and top with a plate or cutting board and weight the sandwich by putting cans or a heavy skillet on top. Refrigerate for 20 minutes.

To serve, remove plastic wrapping from the sandwich and cut crosswise into four pieces.

Makes 4 servings.

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Posted: Jun 9th by Sandy_Hu