When it comes to traditional food, purists and non-purists often clash. Purists angrily accuse non-purists of blasphemy by leaving out certain components, tainting what otherwise would be a perfect dish with obscure ingredients, or worse: substituting a core ingredient with a horrendous of lesser-quality element. Why oh why must you dishonour this graceful food in such appalling way, they wail. Well, because we quite like it this way, non-purists casually retort. And because we don’t have the energy to go down to the grocery store and look for that special ingredient that would give this dish its “authentic” aura, when hunger had already struck 10 minutes ago.
I, more often than not, belong to the latter category. I very rarely follow a recipe and feel that I am confident with my style of cooking. I add a bit of this, I add a bit of that. I leave out chunks of things altogether. It’s just the way I cook. I love learning other varieties to a dish, or knowing the things people have added to make the dish better. But I still cringe when I see a recipe that calls for peanut butter in an Indonesian satay sauce, or (gasp!) pineapples in Nasi Goreng. Some recipes are so close to our heart and make such a big part of our identity that we quiver at the thought of eating a non-traditional version. (Or is it just me?) So I guess, I can relate to both sides of the coin.
The recipe below is a recipe for Pan Bagnat. Pan Bagnat is a sandwich from the Côte d’Azur region in France. In Niçoise dialect it means “bathed bread”. Bathed because it is literally drenched in olive oil and left overnight in the fridge so the bread soaks up the vinaigrette some more. This is one of my all time favourite sandwich. It’s basically salade niçoise in a sandwich. The first time I had it was on a train back to Bordeaux. I had visited my then-boyfriend’s family in Grasse for Christmas. My two week stay there quickly became a French culinary education. My then-boyfriend’s mother is such a fine French cook. She casually whipped up soufflés, salmon koulibiac, cassoulet and the likes during my stay. As you can guess, I hung out with her often in the kitchen. When it was time to leave, she had prepared us this sandwich the night before. It was tightly wrapped in foil. We opened the sandwich on the train and immediately the whole carriage was filled with mediterranean aroma. Olive oil, capsicum, herbs, olives, YUM! It was messy to eat. The vinaigrette trickled down our hands and we kept getting glances from our neighbours because of the smell. But it was so so good that when mine was all gone, I had to fight my then-boyfriend for a bite of his.
The recipe I’m featuring here is NOT the traditional authentic recipe you would find in Grandma’s kitchen in Côte d’Azur. It covers most of the elements but it leaves out the fava beans, artichokes, cébette (spring oniony type) and radish. It also vulgarly replaces the small boule with baguette, and the green capsicum with the sweeter red variety. But it’s taste is excellent and equally important, it takes me back to that train ride and soft Grasse breeze. Because in the end, that’s what makes food so enjoyable isn’t it? Good memories that come with every bite.
Pan Bagnat – a.k.a Bathed Bread
Adapted from this recipe
- 1 loaf crusty French baguette
- extra virgin olive oil
- 2 hard boiled eggs, sliced lengthwise
- 4 slivers anchovies, rinsed and patted drily (optional, but if you’re feeling brave, embrace it)
FOR THE SALAD:
- 1 (6oz/170 gr) can tuna
- 1/2 cup Nicoise or Kalamata olives, sliced
- 1/2 cup red bell pepper, seeded and sliced thin
- 1/2 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
- 2 shallots, finely chopped
- 1/4 cup blanched French green beans, sliced into thirds
FOR THE VINAIGRETTE:
- 6 basil leaves, en chiffonade
- 2 thyme sprigs, leaves picked
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
- 6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- salt, to taste
- chilli flakes, to taste
MAKE THE VINAIGRETTE: In a large bowl, mix together olive oil, red wine vinegar, salt, chilli flakes, garlic and thyme. Stir until emulsified. Throw in the basil.
Then, MAKE THE SALAD. In the vinaigrette bowl, combine the tuna, olives, cherry tomatoes, red capsicum, shallots, French beans. Mix everything together until the vinaigrette coats the salad nicely. Have a taste for salt and heat.
Now, PREP THE BREAD. Divide the loaf of baguette into three. Cut each section lengthwise, taking care to not separate each sides completely. Scoop out the “meat” of the baguette from one side. Reserve it to make breadcrumbs tomorrow. Drizzle each side with olive oil. Be as liberal as you’d like. Olive oil is good for you.
You’re now ready to ASSEMBLE THE SANDWICH. Spoon the salad mixture into the through of the baguette. Carefully assemble egg slices and anchovies (if you dare) on the other side of the baguette. Spoon over any vinaigrette that is left onto the sandwich. Wrap each sandwich with plastic wrap/ parchment paper. Refrigerate with something heavy on top of the sandwiches to crush it down. You can leave it there for half an hour or overnight if you can resist the temptation.