- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Whoever suggested throwing out day-old bread can’t be much of a cook. There are so many dishes that actually require it.

Whether it is used as the foundation for a bread pudding, to make toasted croutons, as an ingredient in an Italian vegetable soup called ribollita, or in a sandwich that gets better as it sits, dry bread doesn’t need to be discarded. Today’s spectacular summer sandwich made with thick-crusted, day-old bread can be made ahead (which actually improves the flavor) and is a creative cook’s dream.

There are many versions of this classic French specialty. Pain bagnat, or “bathed bread,” is moistened with herbed vinaigrette, which is where the name is derived. The key is to weight the sandwich so that all the flavors come together.

This tasty sandwich, a specialty from the Nice region, can be found in markets and bakeries along the French Riviera. Originally, the sandwich was composed of stale bread with the classic Nicoise salad ingredients like hard-cooked eggs, anchovies, tomatoes, lettuce and tuna tucked into it.

My version includes some other tasty additions that have become a must-have for summer picnics. I like to mix it up and surprise my guests by using roasted chicken breast instead of the expected tuna. Either way, you can’t go wrong.

I have served this at casual backyard lunches, at the beach for a picnic and on my brother’s boat as we sail along a stretch of the Santa Monica Bay.

This is a serious sandwich — big, hearty and full of flavor.

To simplify prep time, use a store-bought roasted chicken and slice the breast meat for the filling. Wrapping the entire loaf in butcher paper and tying off individual sandwiches with raffia or extra-long chives makes an ideal and impressive lunch for picnics and summer outings where traveling is a consideration. As with all transported summer fare, make sure to keep it cool in an ice chest until serving.

Help is on the way: Try this with a French or sourdough baguette or Italian focaccia. You can also make these with individual rolls. Be as creative as you like. Some other filling ingredients include roasted red peppers, eggplant or zucchini, marinated and grilled lamb, canned and drained tuna, sun-dried tomatoes, mozzarella cheese and arugula.

Summer picnic sandwich

1 loaf French or sourdough bread, baguette or Focaccia style (day-old works well)

½ cup herb vinaigrette (recipe follows)

1 small cucumber, peeled and thinly sliced

2 tomatoes, thinly sliced

12 large fresh basil leaves

Roasted chicken breast meat, thinly sliced

3/4 cup (6-ounce jar) marinated artichoke hearts

3 ounces fresh goat cheese

Butcher paper and chives, twine or raffia for wrapping sandwiches, optional

Basil leaves, for garnish

Slice baguette horizontally so that 2/3 of the bread is on the bottom half and 1/3 is on the top half. Scoop out most of the soft bread inside, leaving the thick crust with only a thin layer of bread.

To assemble the sandwich: Brush some vinaigrette on bottom half of baguette. Top each with cucumber slices, tomato slices, basil leaves, chicken slices and artichoke hearts. Sprinkle with more vinaigrette. Top with cheese. Cover with top piece of bread and press down tightly. Wrap tightly with plastic.

Place in shallow baking pan; top with another baking pan and weight with heavy cans. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours and up to 8 hours ahead. Before serving, unwrap the plastic wrap, slice and serve.

For a pretty presentation, you can wrap the loaf in butcher or parchment paper. At 2- to 3-inch intervals along the sandwich, wrap chives, twine or raffia tightly around the sandwich’s circumference. Using a sharp, serrated knife, slice through paper wrapping and bread between the ties to make individual sandwiches. Place on a platter garnished with fresh basil leaves. Makes 6 to 8 servings.

HERB VINAIGRETTE

1 medium shallot, finely chopped

1 garlic clove, minced

1 tablespoon finely chopped parsley

1 tablespoon finely chopped chives

1 teaspoon whole grain Dijon mustard

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

3 tablespoons red wine vinegar

3/4 cup olive oil

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Combine the shallot, garlic, parsley, chives, mustard, lemon juice and red wine vinegar in medium bowl and whisk until well blended. (Or place in a food processor fitted with the metal blade and process until well blended). Slowly pour the olive oil into the bowl, whisking continuously (or processing) until blended. Add salt and pepper and taste for seasoning. Store any remaining vinaigrette in the refrigerator. Whisk before using. Makes 1 cup.

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