A Sandwich Kind of Heat

Chefs, Cooking, Recipes By Aug 19, 2012

Growing up in the sweltering San Fernando Valley (before air conditioning), super-hot summer days seemed endless. My back-to-school fashion demands were way out of line. Every year I insisted on wool skirts and sweaters. For this ensemble I even tied a scarf around my neck. I sweat into my shoes.  Still without air conditioning, the last couple of weeks have been very uncomfortable, even though we are only 5 blocks from the ocean. The last couple of days, cars have been backed up from the Huntington Beach beach parking entrance all the way to Warner. It’s just too darn hot. 

This kind of heat combined with high humidity is sandwich weather. A picnic in the backyard, park, or beach sounds like the ticket.

I’ve pulled off my share of hoity-toity picnics, alfresco meals with menus showcasing everything from chilled soup to spiced nuts, symmetrical fruit tarts to thinly-sliced stuffed flank steak. They were swanky outdoor productions plucked from over-stuffed baskets and weighty coolers.

(Baguette sandwich wrapped in parchment paper and tied with colored raffia from Cost Plus – then cut with a serrated knife into individual servings.)

But for more casual outings, sandwiches are hard to beat. Simple to prepare and easy to carry, sandwiches pack a lot of pleasure. Part of that appeal is that the American bread revolution has given us so many choices when it comes to what goes on top and bottom. From the corner supermarket or bakery, scrumptious artisanal-style breads have become part of our shopping lexicon: ciabatta rolls or rustic whole wheat baguettes; crusty loaves studded with olives or cranberries or walnuts. Maybe country-style white or hearty multigrain, the choice is yours.

These breads add more than alluring taste, they also bring appealing texture.

Some things I love to add to sandwiches: pickled onions, Manchego cheese, fresh herbs and baby greens tossed with lemon vinaigrette, and vine-ripened tomatoes.

As for fillings, it’s hard to beat a combination of great cheese and meat, either cold cuts or cold cooked beef or pork. Think fresh mozzarella paired with prosciutto, basil and sliced vine-ripened tomatoes. Or salami layered with Manchego cheese and thinly sliced skin-on hothouse cucumber, or sliced grilled-and-chilled steak with Havarti and baby arugula.

Those winning combinations are especially delicious if you bring along a container of pickled red onions to use as an optional topping. The mixture is spiked with both sugar and vinegar, and that sweet-sour personality is made even more interesting with the addition of peppercorns, fennel seeds, coriander seeds and curry powder.

If pickled onions don’t ring your bells, stir some drained capers into mayonnaise to add a little salty-sour accent, or doctor up the mayo with a little minced garlic or use a frisky mustard. Add a little salad made with mixed baby greens tossed with just enough lemon vinaigrette to very lightly coat the leaves.

If you’re preparing meat-and-cheese sandwiches for a crowd, consider making them on long baguettes. It saves time. Once assembled, cut the baguette crosswise into individual servings using a serrated knife, but first wrap the loaf in parchment paper or waxed paper and secure the paper in place in several locations (using either rubber bands or string or colored raffia). Leave the paper in place.

Chicken salad spiked with fresh tarragon is another filling favorite. The subtle anise flavor of the tarragon breathes new life into this classic salad. Sometimes I add chopped dried cranberries or coarsely chopped toasted almonds. Or if I’m feeling a little naughty, I add strips of crisp bacon or avocado to the sandwich when I add the lettuce layer.

Because it is mayonnaise-based, I keep the chicken salad chilled and assemble the sandwiches at the picnic site (or simply let my guests make their own).

If a meat-free picnic treat is what you had in mind, team soft goat cheese with a perky celery salad and walnut pesto. I love the crunch factor that the celery brings to the sandwich and the walnut pesto rounds out the flavors with its assertive nuttiness.

Both the vinaigrette (used to nap the salad) and the pesto (that is slathered on the bread) can be prepared well in advance and refrigerated airtight.

Unfold the blanket, relax, and enjoy a carefree, delicious ‘wich picnic.

(Don’t feel like cooking? Drop by Epicerie Pascal in Newport Beach for a lamb sandwich  made with whole wheat walnut bread, a feta herbs spread, and roasted tomato puree. The egg salad sandwich is also great for picnic: chopped egg, diced carrot, celery, fresh tarragon mayonnaise and a touch of cayenne. The Brie sandwich is made with imported brie tomato spread , Dijon butter and fresh basil on whole-wheat seeded bread.)

Goat Cheese Sandwiches with Avocado, Celery, Walnut Pesto, and Watercress
Yield: 4 sandwiches
8 tablespoons fresh goat cheese (chevre)
8 slices hearty multigrain bread
1 cup sliced celery (about 1/4- inch thick)
4 tablespoons Lemon Vinaigrette (recipe included)
2 cups watercress, largest stems removed
1 ripe avocado, halved, pitted, peeled and sliced
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons Walnut Pesto (recipe included)
1. Spread the goat cheese evenly over 4 of the slices of bread.  In a bowl, toss the celery in the vinaigrette, and place on top of the goat cheese.  Add the watercress to the bowl used to dress the celery and toss with the remaining vinaigrette.  Top the celery with the avocado, season with salt and pepper, and follow with the dressed watercress.  Spread the pesto evenly over the 4 remaining bread slices.  Close the sandwiches, cut into halves, and serve.
Nutrition information (per serving):   395 calories, 69 percent of calories from fat, 30 g fat, 5 g saturated fat, 40 mg cholesterol, 22 g carbohydrates, 9 g protein, 120 mg sodium, 3.5 g fiber
Source: “Wichcraft” by Tom Colicchio (Clarkson Potter, $27.50)

Lemon Vinaigrette
Yield: about 2 cups
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
2/3 cup fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons finely chopped shallots
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 sprig fresh rosemary
1. In a bowl, combine the oil, lemon juice, shallots, and salt and whisk until the vinaigrette emulsifies.  Add the rosemary sprig, cover, and set aside for 1 hour.  Remove the rosemary before using.  Keeps well if refrigerated for up to 1 week.
Nutrition information (per tablespoon): 120 calories, 95 percent of calories from fat, 13 g fat, 2 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 0.2 g carbohydrates, 0.1 g protein, 8mg sodium, 0 g fiber
Source: “Wichcraft” by Tom Colicchio (Clarkson Potter, $27.50)

Walnut Pesto
Makes about 3/4 cup
2 cups walnut pieces
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees.
2. Distribute the walnuts on a sheet pan and toast in the oven until they are fragrant.  Transfer the walnuts to a blender or food processor and roughly chop.  Slowly add the oil and continue to process until you have a just spreadable but not too smooth pesto.  (Keep in mind that the walnuts release their own oils, so be patient if the paste seems too dry at first).  Season with salt and pepper.  Use immediately or store in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.
Nutrition information (per tablespoon):145calories, 90 percent of calories from fat, 15 g fat, 3g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 0.1 g carbohydrates, 2.0 g protein, 8mg sodium, 0 g fiber Source: “Wichcraft” by Tom Colicchio (Clarkson Potter, $27.50)
Source: “Wichcraft” by Tom Colicchio (Clarkson Potter, $27.50)

Pickled Red Onions
Yield: about 3 cups
1 1/4 cups red wine vinegar
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon curry powder
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
2 small red onions, sliced
1. In a saucepan, combine the vinegar, 1/2 cup water, sugar, and spices and bring to a boil.  Remove from the heat, add the onions, and stir.  Set aside to cool, stirring occasionally.  Keeps well if refrigerated for up to 2 to 3 weeks.
Nutrition information (per tablespoon):  50 calories, less than 5 % percent of calories from fat, 1.4 g fat, 0.8 g saturated fat, 0.1 mg cholesterol, 9.3 g carbohydrates, 1.2 g protein, 50 mg sodium, 2.8 g fiber
Source: “Wichcraft” by Tom Colicchio (Clarkson Potter, $27.50)

Ina’s Chicken Salad Sandwiches
Yield: 4 to 5
4 bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts
Extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
3/4 cup mayonnaise
1 1/2 tablespoons chopped fresh tarragon leaves
1 cup small-diced celery (2 stalks)
8 to 10 slices seven-grain bread or squaw bread
1 package baby lettuces, see cook’s notes
Cook’s notes: If you use very large chicken breasts, you may need a little more mayonnaise and tarragon. I prefer the mix of baby greens that also contains fresh herbs.
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place chicken breasts skin side up on a rimmed baking sheet and rub with olive oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Roast 35 to 45 minutes or until chicken is thoroughly cooked. Set aside to cool.
2. When chicken is cool, remove and discard skin and bones; cut chicken into 3/4-inch dice. Place chicken in a bowl and add mayonnaise (reserve 1 to 2 tablespoons for spreading on bread), tarragon, celery, 2 teaspoons salt and 1 teaspoon pepper. Toss well.
3. To assemble, spread a little mayonnaise on half of the bread slices, top with chicken salad and lettuces. Cover with remaining slices of bread. Cut in half and serve.
Nutrition information (per serving): 290 calories, 43 percent of calories from fat,  14g fat, 4 g saturated fat, 55 mg cholesterol, 28 g carbohydrates, 12 g protein, 240 mg sodium, 3.2 g fiber
Source: “Barefoot Contessa at Home” by Ina Garten (Clarkson Potter, $35)


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