Last week, I found myself in need of a 'main dish' to bring to a pot luck. I also found myself in need of something that would not require me to apply heat to food, since it's hot, America, it's hot, still, as it is still summertime, despite the fact that the community college teachers are back to work, the swimming pools are about the close, the days of perfect tomatoes and corn and peaches are, while upon us, numbered. Summer is almost over--kind of already is over--and yet it is still hot. Not that I'm whining. At least, I'm not whining more than I usually whine. Although really, who can verify that? What are the metrics? I ask you.
I considered my main dish options. Is tabbouleh a main dish? Is fattoush? They would be at my house. But I feared that, for purposes of the pot luck, they would be considered salads, because, in fact, they are salads. I was just about to venture down the road of the salad-main dish, prepared to make my argument (because that's a time-honored tradition at pot lucks, right? arguing over whether something is categorically a main dish or a salad or a side or an adornment or a garnish or whatever?) that a salad can be a main dish. But then, the idea of sandwiches came upon me and the debate was transformed.
Sandwiches, America, are a main dish. I submit to you the hamburger: clearly an item that is central to a plate. Accompanied, perhaps, by potato salad, or potato chips, or french fried potatoes--something something potato, in other words--and perhaps a pickle, and maybe adornments such as a sliced tomato or a leaf of lettuce or perhaps a slice of cheese. A hamburger is a sandwich, ergo a sandwich is a main dish.
Obviously, I would not be schlepping hamburgers in a covered dish to a pot luck. But I could, perhaps, make the kind of sandwich that is built upon the baguette, and sliced into sections, a classic dish for a French picnic, such as Pan Bagnat, aka the Nicoise Sandwich, aka the French Fancy Tuna Sandwich of Glory. Also: a caprese sandwich. So two baguettes' worth of main dish sandwichery.
The pan bagnat is a wonderful thing. I had never made one before but I had a memory of a vegetarian version from the first The Vegetarian Epicure. Basically it involved stuffing a bunch of delicious stuff into the halves of a baguette with loads of olive oil, then pressing the sandwich firmly so that the stuff and the bread became intimately acquainted and not too fall-y apart-y. (That's a pipe dream, by the way, but anyway:). I Googled (as you do) 'Nicoise Sandwich,' the sandwich of the Niceans, hahaha, no: the southern French people who live in Nice, and found a glory of a recipe.
Dramatic reenactment of my sandwich
It was not so tidy as this one, but it
also was juicier. I'm surmising.
So: the goodness: you take two kinds of onion, super thinly sliced, then add salt and pepper and olive oil and vinegar to it, and then you squish all of it together with your hands. For five minutes. Per the instructions: 'Do not rush this part.' Yes, I got all meditative with the onions, the oil, the salt, the pepper, the vinegar whilst all of it moved through my fingers and around the bowl.
A million minutes, or five, I guess, later, you take the oil-packed tuna--do not substitute your sad water-packed tuna!--and mix that into the whole situation, along with a squeeze of lemon juice, since lemon juice makes everything monumentally better.
Let me tell you, America, that tuna-onion-oil plus flavorings was already happening, as in, you'd want to eat it straight from the bowl. But wait: it gets better.
You sliced the baguette lengthwise. You open it up. You layer leaves of lettuce on one side, then slice tomatoes on top of that. It helps a lot if the tomatoes are amazing, as in, you picked them from your own vines or you bought them from the farmers market that very morning. The latter was the case for me. Then, you spread the tuna-onion situation on the tomatoes--by 'spread,' I mean 'dollop and gingerly edge outward'--and top that with: (a) slices of freshly hard boiled egg, (b) a strewing of sliced scallion, and (c) slices of radish.
If you happen to have Nicoise olives, you can also strew these. The recipe says that the olives can be 'pitted or not.' Hey, Nicoisians: I submit to you that an olive pit is not a nice addition to a sandwich. As I did not have Nicoise olives, I used a lovely olive tapenade, and spread it on the other length of baguette. Then, I put the olive-y baguette half on the tuna half, carefully, and wrapped the whole shebang in waxed paper and foil so that it could consult its own soul in a private hour, aka marinate in its own juices.
When I unwrapped this sandwich at the potluck to the tune of a great swarming of yellow jackets--yet another of the glories of summer--it was perfectly delicious and fresh tasting. Because it's supposed to marinate, it also can keep for a couple of days if you pack it and keep it cold. In fact, I just ate the last of this sandwich for my own workaday lunch, and it was still splendid.
Sandwiches, America! I salute them at the end of a summer and recommend this one to you, along with good wishes that the last ears of corn you buy be sweet, that your tomatoes be juicy, and that the remaining watermelons of August open with a promising crack.