Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Sandwich

Bread has been eaten with meat or vegetables since Neolithic times. The ancient Jewish sage Hillel the Elder is said to have placed meat from the Paschal lamb and bitter herbs between two pieces of matzah (flat, unleavened bread) during Passover. During the Middle Ages, thick slabs of coarse and usually stale bread, called "trenchers", were used as plates. After a meal, the food-soaked trencher was fed to a dog or to beggars, or eaten by the diner. Trenchers were the precursors of open-face sandwiches.

The first written usage of the English word appeared in Edward Gibbon's journal, in longhand, referring to "bits of cold meat" as a 'Sandwich'. It was named after John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich, an 18th-century English aristocrat, although he wasn’t really the inventor of the food. It is said that he ordered his valet to bring him meat tucked between two pieces of bread, and because Montagu also happened to be the Fourth Earl of Sandwich, others began to order "the same as Sandwich!" It is said that Lord Sandwich was fond of this form of food because it allowed him to continue playing cards, particularly cribbage, while eating without getting his cards greasy from eating the meat with his bare hands.

Whatever its history, we love sandwiches. We pack our kids off to school with them, we pack them for ourselves to take to work or school, we take them along on picnics or hikes or wherever else we need something easy to eat.

Though commonly filled with meat and cheese, the sandwich is versatile and can be filled with all sorts of things: peanut butter and jelly, meatballs, grilled cheese, chicken salad, egg salad, or tuna salad, just to mention a few. In recent years, the panini has become quite popular, and rightly so. Grilling the bread makes for a tasty sandwich.

But those filled with vegetables are not only tasty but healthy to boot. In fact, this sandwich is perhaps my all-time favorite.  Pan-Bagnat is a specialty of the region of Nice, France and while it’s typically composed around the classic Salad Nicoise (raw vegetables, hard-boiled eggs, anchovies or tuna, and olive oil) this omits the fish and focuses on the veggies.

I hadn’t had the sandwich in a while, so I made it again recently as “research” for this post. I still loved it, and hope you will, too.

Pan Bagnat

French rolls, cut in half (I use sourdough because it's yeast-free)
A jar of marinated artichokes, drained and sliced
Sliced olives (California or Kalamata)
Sliced mushrooms (optional)
Red bell pepper, either raw and sliced into rings, or roasted and cut in half
Red onion, sliced into rings
Hard-boiled eggs, sliced
Sliced tomato
Basil leaves
Dressing: red wine vinegar and olive oil, salt and pepper. Make plenty. 

Spread a generous amount of dressing (by the tablespoon) on each half of the bread. Start building the sandwich by laying everything on, one at a time. Close, wrap in plastic wrap  and let sit for a little while for the dressing to soak in. 

Julia Child said that it isn’t a good sandwich unless the olive oil runs down your arms. In fact, in the local Provencal dialect, pan bagnat means “wet bread”. So the intent is for the sandwich to be moist. Almost a bread salad. So don’t be shy with the dressing. The more, the merrier.

Bon Appetit!

P.S.  This is a funny story I found on the internet about sandwiches: “In the United States, a court in Boston ruled that a "sandwich" includes at least two slices of bread and "under this definition and as dictated by common sense (italics mine), this court finds that the term "sandwich" is not commonly understood to include burritos, tacos, and quesadillas, which are typically made with a single tortilla and stuffed with a choice filling of meat, rice, and beans." The issue stemmed from the question of whether a restaurant that sold burritos could move into a shopping centre where another restaurant had a no-compete clause in its lease prohibiting other "sandwich" shops.” You’ve got to be kidding. 

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