05 June 2013
Pan bagnat: the ultimate picnic sandwich
It's June. You know what that means: it's officially picnic season.
Picnic food is one of my favorite genres. (Does food have genres? Sure, why not?) Who doesn't want to cram a big basket or tote bag with a stack of sandwiches, several containers of salad, a big bag of fresh fruit, and a bottle of wine, iced tea, or lemonade, and swan off to the park for a sunny afternoon? Okay, I admit that we actually set up camp in the fullest possible shade, but still.
So let's make sandwiches! More precisely, let's make one sandwich: a huge, delightful pan bagnat.
Pan bagnat simply means "bathed bread" in Occitan. (And if you've never heard of that--well, I had heard the French term "langue d'Oc" before, but that's it. It's a language spoken in the Occitanian region, which spreads over southern France, Monaco, and some bits of Italy and Spain.) Pan bagnat is essentially a giant sandwich: a whole loaf of bread filled with fresh vegetables and their juices, anointed with olive oil, and pressed under a weight before eating. This gives all the flavors the chance to meld together into something delicious and beautiful. When it's time to eat, just slice off as much as you want and go.
If you are concerned about sogginess--which seems totally normal, considering that this is called "bathed bread," don't be. Our sandwiches were deliciously juicy on the inside, but the juices did not penetrate the crust overnight: perfect.
Needless to say, pan bagnat is one of the best picnic foods ever invented. Let's make one!
The number of servings here really depend on the size of your loaf of bread. We could have served six people pretty comfortably with ours, especially with salads or fruit on the side.
A whole flat loaf of bread (Acme bakery herbslab for us)
havarti (or your choice of cheese)
salt and pepper
Slice your loaf of bread into two thin halves, using a serrated bread knife. It's easiest to put the bread flat on a board and cut into it from the side while you hold the loaf steady with the palm of your hand--sort of like cutting a cake layer into two.
Open up your loaf and start piling on the fillings. Start by drizzling olive oil over each side and spreading on some dijon mustard. Then just layer on all the vegetables and cheese you desire. We used everything in the ingredient list, but feel free to use whatever else sounds good to you. Season the whole thing with salt and pepper before you close it up.
To make your pan bagnat vegan, just leave out the cheese. Super easy!
Wrap your loaf securely in aluminum foil or plastic wrap. Put it in the refrigerator and weight it down overnight, or for at least four hours. We put a cutting board topped with a cast-iron dutch oven half full of water on top of our pan bagnat, and it worked admirably.
When you're ready to eat--perhaps after transporting your pan bagnat to the picnic grounds at the very bottom of the picnic basket, with your containers of salads and bottles of wine still pressing it together--simply unwrap and cut off slices to eat. You can go for long, thin sandwiches (toothpicks come in handy here) or cut wider slices and then halve them (no toothpicks necessary). It's all good.
Now have your picnic! Eat your sandwich, lounge in the sun, drink some wine, break out the frisbee, wiggle your toes in the grass--it's all good.
What's your favorite picnic food?