What do you get when you put a Salade Niçoise between two pieces of crusty bread? You get a portable feast known as a Pan Bagnat. Pan Bagnat means "bathed bread" and, like the Salade Niçoise, it is a popular regional dish found around Nice in the French Riviera. Traditionally it was a carry-along meal for fishermen and field workers, featuring canned tuna or anchovies, tomatoes, hard-boiled eggs and various vegetables such as peppers, fennel, string beans, artichoke hearts, scallions and cucumbers. This sandwich is best made with day-old bread and is compressed to consolidate all the ingredients. The longer it sits, the better it gets, up to several hours at room temperature or overnight under refrigeration, allowing the olive oil and juices from the tomatoes to meld and soak through the bread.

On the other side of the Mediterranean Sea, in the North African country of Tunisia, a similar sandwich can be found known as Le Casse-croûte Tunisien or Sandwich Tunisien. This sandwich shares a common ingredient list with the Pan Bagnat: tuna, olive oil, olives, capers, vegetables. In Tunisia, they take the concept to another level by adding two regional ingredients: harissa and preserved lemons.

Harissa is a North African pepper paste made of dried peppers, sun-dried garlic and tomatoes, olive oil, caraway and coriander. It's the North African cousin to sriracha and has the consistency of tomato paste. Depending on the types of peppers used, its flavor can range from slightly sweet to spicy hot. Preserved lemons are a fermented condiment from the region. (See my article, "When life gives you lemons, preserve them," in Illinois Times June 21, 2018, at illinoistimes.com.)

I learned about the Sandwich Tunisien from Ari Weinzweig, co-founder and CEO of the specialty foods emporium Zingerman's in Ann Arbor. He has traveled extensively, seeking out sources for unique food ingredients and is very knowledgeable about the cuisines of North Africa. In Unforgettable, the biography of the renowned cookbook author Paula Wolfert, it describes how Wolfert and her interpreter introduced Weinzweig to some of the Southern Mediterranean's unique ingredients, resulting in Zingerman's becoming the first major importer of many of the region's specialties. "Because I loved her work so much, and trusted her taste, I didn't hesitate to act on it when she told me something was good!" Weinzweig recounts.

The Sandwich Tunisien, according to Weinzweig, "puts together the best of the region's ingredients into a single, delicious, easy to make, made-to-transport sandwich. The super sandwich is to Tunisia what the Po'Boy, the Philly Cheese Steak or the Reuben are to their respective regions – a classic every kid grew up with, comfort food par excellence, a meal you can make quickly, without a whole lot of advanced work, while marveling, literally, at how good every bite will be!"

These sandwiches are easy to make and are both visually appealing, wonderfully delicious and extremely nutritious. Before the summer slips away, go on a picnic. Make either one of these sandwiches, chill a bottle of dry rosé and find a nice outdoor space sufficiently away from the mask-less crowds. Bon appetit!

Pan Bagnat
Makes 2 sandwiches

Ingredients
1 small garlic clove, minced
1 t. red wine vinegar
½ t. Dijon mustard
A pinch of salt and freshly ground pepper
2 T. extra-virgin olive oil
1 small loaf round crusty bread
1 medium ripe tomato, sliced
½ small cucumber, peeled and thinly sliced
½ small red onion, sliced
1 can oil-packed tuna, drained
2 hard-boiled eggs, sliced into rounds
8 black olives, pitted and sliced in half
2 T. capers, rinsed and drained
4 large basil leaves

Preparation

Make the vinaigrette: In a small bowl, whisk together the garlic, vinegar, mustard, salt and pepper. Slowly drizzle in the oil while continuing to whisk to form an emulsion.

Slice the bread horizontally into two halves. Remove some of the soft bread in the center of each side to form a shallow well.

Arrange tomato slices evenly over the bottom of the bread and top with cucumber slices, followed by red onion slices. Spread tuna on top of the vegetables, then top with the eggs, olives and capers. Drizzle the vinaigrette evenly over the ingredients. Add the basil leaves and cover with top of bread, pressing together to compact.

Wrap sandwich tightly in plastic wrap, followed by foil. Weigh down the sandwich with a heavy skillet to compress and allow the juices to soak in. The sandwich can sit for a couple hours at room temperature or overnight in the refrigerator.

Cut in half to serve.

Sandwich Tunisien
Makes 2 sandwiches

Ingredients:
1 small loaf round crusty bread
2 T. extra virgin olive oil
2-3 T. of harissa
1 can oil-packed tuna
2 T. preserved lemon, rind only, thinly sliced
2 T. capers, rinsed and drained
1 medium Yukon gold potato, boiled until tender, peeled and thinly sliced
½ small cucumber, peeled and thinly sliced
1 medium ripe tomato, thinly sliced
8 black olives, pitted and sliced in half
2 hard-boiled eggs, sliced into rounds
Roasted red bell pepper slices, from a jar or DIY
2 T. chopped parsley

Preparation

Split the bread horizontally, leaving them intact on one side. Scoop out a little of the loaf's centers to create a well in each half. Brush cut surfaces with enough olive oil to soak in a bit and then spread a layer of harissa. (Taste the harissa first to assess the spice level and to gauge how much to use.)

On one side of the loaf, add the tuna. Top tuna with slices of preserved lemons, capers, potato slices, cucumber slices, tomato slices, olives, egg slices, roasted peppers and chopped parsley.

Wrap sandwich tightly in plastic wrap, followed by foil. Weigh down the sandwich with a heavy skillet to compress and allow the flavors to meld and the juices to penetrate the bread. The sandwich can sit for a couple of hours at room temperature or overnight in the refrigerator.

Cut in half to serve.

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