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Published in Cooking, Food & Wine/Meals
Our final stop on the tour was a small neighborhood crostini bar in Florence, Fuori Porta, where locals come in the evening to eat a simple meal of toasted bread with toppings, drink wines by the glass, and relax with their friends after work. As waiters passed by carrying platters of assorted sandwiches, my appetite quickly returned. Before I knew it, I too was drinking red wine and eating grilled bread rubbed with garlic and layered with prosciutto, arugula, and Parmesan, or with tuna, egg, and anchovies, and feeling very Italian.
When I returned home to Los Angeles, I went through serious food cravings. Not for bistecca fiorentina, not for ribollita, not for gelati, but for that perfect meal at Fuori Porta; those open-faced sandwiches turned out to be the highlight of my trip. I couldn't stop thinking about them. Simply constructed with fresh ingredients, their flavor combinations were bold and unforgettable. It's not as if I had never seen a sandwich before, but as an adult, I had never been so excited about eating one.
The only other time I was that obsessed with sandwiches was when I was 8 years old. My parents would take me to the Choo Choo Burger in the San Fernando Valley, where I always ordered the tuna sandwich. I could barely wait to grab it off the electric train (which circled the diner's countertop delivering the customers' orders) when it pulled to a stop in front of me. These days, however, I need more than just a gimmick and a bland tuna sandwich to satisfy me.
Too often, American sandwiches are just a quick and easy meal that rarely transcend their generic coffee-shop incarnation. Served with a mayonnaisey potato or macaroni salad and a few sweet-pickle chips, those sandwiches are okay, but usually too predictable. Don't get me wrong: every now and then, I love an ordinary corned beef on rye or a classic turkey club. But it took a trip to Italy to make me realize once again that a sandwich could be something worthy of an obsession. And what an obsession it became!
With no crostini bar in my neighborhood and no future junket to Italy on my calendar, how could I relive that Florentine experience? I could open a sandwich shop, but I already had one restaurant-Campanile, in Los Angeles-and I didn't want another. And so the only solution was to convert the bar at Campanile into my own Sandwich Night.
I chose Thursday nights to serve a seasonal menu of open-faced and closed-faced sandwiches in the bar and on the surrounding patio. Like a weekly cocktail party, Sandwich Night rapidly became the place where Angelenos gathered for wine, conversation, and a fix of their current favorite sandwiches, like Croque Monsieur; Clam Sandwich with Parmesan Breadcrumbs; or Braised Artichokes, Ricotta, and Mint Pesto with Pine-Nut Currant Relish. Finally, the sandwich had a starring role in a fine-dining restaurant. It was comforting to know that so many others shared my enthusiasm. It wasn't long before customers were asking me for recipes so they could satisfy their cravings for my sandwiches more than one night a week.
Whether because of childhood memories or the comfort of certain ingredients combined together, everyone likes sandwiches. When vegetables, cheese, and meats are piled on top of bread, they take on a less formal quality. Although many of the sandwiches in this book have all the components of a complete meal-a protein, a starch, and at least one vegetable-they lack the stuffiness of a sit-down dinner. Convivial and inviting, these sandwiches are something to nibble at, converse over, and share with your friends.
Don't look at them as complicated sandwiches, but as satisfying entrees on bread. Aside from a simple green salad, nothing is needed to accompany them. Though some are more demanding to prepare and require extra steps and techniques, others come together with no cooking at all. For the more complex sandwiches, start making the components a day or two ahead. Cauliflower Puree with Browned Butter and Hazelnuts isn't a last-minute meal, but if you start a day before and have your components ready, assembling it takes no time at all. Others, such as the Classic Grilled Cheese or French Baguette with Butter and Prosciutto, call for only two or three ingredients and very little cooking at all, if any.
If you're willing to venture beyond the basic construction of a sandwich (just slapping two pieces of bread together with filling in the middle), then this book will expand your horizons and teach you more than just sandwich making. You can learn how to braise beans in the oven, char rapini in a skillet, saute fresh clams, and make mayonnaise from scratch. These are methods and recipes that you will use for the rest of your cooking life.
Be creative and think outside of the "sandwich box." All of the sandwich components can be readily adapted to use in other recipes or served with other favorite dishes you make. Instead of mashed potatoes with your roast chicken, serve the cauliflower puree. Brandade without its sandwich counterparts, chickpeas and roast tomatoes, makes an unusual dip for a party. And long-cooked broccoli is so addictive, I love to eat it hot or cold, alone or as a side dish.
These sandwiches come in all sizes and shapes and flavors: large or small, minimal or overstuffed, savory or sweet. From the simple combinations such as grilled bread brushed with pesto, to the traditional closed-faced Grilled Cheese and its variations, to the layered, meal-style sandwiches like the Piled-High Pork, there's enough variety for everyone in the chapters ahead. Add some sugar and a little chocolate to the sandwich concept, and you can bake your way into the "Sandwich Cakes and Cookies" chapter. If you're not as obsessed with sandwiches as I am, you'll find lots of non-sandwiches to try in the "Bar Snacks" or "Sort-Of Sandwiches" chapters. And if you spend a little extra time making the tea sandwiches, your guests will be dazzled from the first look to the last bite.
Ingredients and Techniques
As a working mother, I am fully aware of scheduling constraints in the kitchen, and for those with more ambition than time, substitutions can certainly be made. High-quality commercial jars of roasted peppers, tapenades, pestos, imported tuna, and marinated artichokes can be found in well-stocked supermarkets and delis. There are also many restaurants and chefs packaging and marketing their own homemade pantry products. Though I usually prefer to make my own, tailoring the seasonings to my liking, if I do buy the commercial counterpart, I read the ingredients on the label to assure myself of the integrity of the product, avoiding the ones that contain artificial flavorings, garlic powder, MSG, or other "unsavory" ingredients.
With a few exceptions, all of the sandwiches call for a hearth-baked white or whole-wheat sourdough bread, both of which are available in most supermarkets or from your local bakery. For the home cook who insists on making everything from scratch, I've included a bread chapter that contains a few basic recipes that don't require the time-consuming sourdough-starter method. A few of the sandwiches call for a specialty bread such as a baguette, or walnut or olive bread, which are also available at neighborhood bakeries and most supermarkets. And, for the fanatic cook who wants to duplicate exactly what we do here at Campanile, you can always find more of my bread recipes in Nancy Silverton's Breads from the La Brea Bakery.
The amounts of the toppings and fillings that the recipes yield are, unless otherwise noted, enough for four sandwiches made on slices of bread about 4 inches wide by 7 inches long. To achieve that size, buy a 2-pound round or oval loaf, have it sliced into 1/2-inch-thick slices, and use the wider, center slices for your sandwiches. If you decide to make your own bread, most of the sandwiches can be made on the Crusty White Loaf (see page 219). It yields a loaf with a smaller girth, so, to feed four and use up the amounts of toppings I call for in the sandwich recipe, you'll need to improvise. Cut the loaf into six slices for open-faced sandwiches and twelve slices for closed-faced sandwiches. Then cut the slices in half and give each person three halves.
For grilling the bread, I prefer to use a home-style panini machine, a two-sided grill that resembles a waffle iron. The heavy metal grills apply pressure and heat to both sides of the bread or sandwich at once. There's no flipping necessary, and you don't need to exert any extra pressure on the sandwiches as they grill. Turn the panini machine to high and allow it to heat up for 5-10 minutes. For the open-faced sandwiches, spread a thin layer of softened butter on both sides of the bread. For the closed-faced sandwiches, be sure to choose two slices of bread that are a perfect fit when placed together and spread a thin layer of softened butter on the outer sides of the bread. If the sandwich is filled before grilling, assemble the ingredients and place the top slice of bread over them, aligning the slices of bread. Transfer the sandwiches or bread slices to the grill, placing them side by side without overcrowding them. (Most home-style panini grills have room for two sandwiches or two slices of bread.) Close the top grill and cook them for a few minutes, until the bread is lightly browned. This practical and easy-to-use machine is the fastest, most efficient method for making grilled sandwiches.
If you don't own a panini grill, other techniques work fine. You can achieve the same effect with the coffee-shop method, using a heavy-bottomed pan or, better yet, a well-seasoned cast-iron skillet with some Clarified Butter (see page 201). For cooking the bread for open-faced sandwiches, simply brush a little of the clarified butter over both sides of each slice, and lightly brown each side in the pan. For the closed-faced sandwiches, place a tablespoon or so of the clarified butter in the skillet and cook the assembled sandwich over medium heat, covered with a lid. When the bottom side turns golden brown, flip the sandwich over and move it around so it absorbs some of the butter around the edge of the skillet, adding more butter if necessary.
For grilling an open-faced sandwich on a charcoal or gas grill, brush the bread with olive oil and grill it for a few minutes on each side. When grilling a closed-faced sandwich, place a metal bowl over it to help the cheese-melting process. (At home, this technique probably isn't worth the trouble, but if you're picnicking or camping, a charcoal grill comes in handy for a quick and tasty outdoor meal.) And simplest of all, for any of the open-faced sandwiches, you can certainly just toast the bread in a good old-fashioned toaster.
Now that you're privy to all of my secrets, you can have your own sandwich night at home. But I hope that doesn't mean that you won't take a Thursday night off and drop by Campanile, where I'll be standing over my panini grill behind the bar. By then, who knows? I may have come up with a few new sandwiches for you to try.
Whether it's a tartine under the Eiffel Tower in Paris, a montadito at a tapas bar in Spain, a crostone outside the city gates of Florence, or an open-faced sandwich on Thursday night at Campanile in Los Angeles, you're still eating the same thing: toasted bread with topping.
Technically, these aren't really sandwiches. Layered and stacked on a crisp bread pedestal, they're more closely related to the canape. But whereas canapes call for the precise placement and rigid composition of fussy ingredients, these free-form assemblages are put together with ease. Never dainty or shy, they are proud sandwiches with a friendly, in-your-face attitude.
Concealing the toppings underneath a slice of bread would be a crime. Their artful layers of colorful patterns and rustic textures are part of what makes these open-faced sandwiches so irresistible. On one sandwich, hard-cooked eggs are quartered and nestled beside ruby-red tuna topped off with crispy strands of fried leeks. On another, rumpled slices of prosciutto provide a salty pillow for a soft poached egg to rest on. And savory chunks of bacon set the tempo for the olive-oil-braised beans and marinated greens on another open-faced sandwich.
For most of my open-faced sandwiches, I use a hearth-baked white or whole-wheat sourdough bread. However, to add another flavor component to a couple of the sandwiches, I call for a specialty bread. For the goat-cheese and marinated-fennel sandwich, walnut bread provides a sweet and nutty addition. An earthy olive bread is a classic match for the rare-seared tuna, braised leeks, hard-cooked egg, and tapenade. But if you can't find these flavored breads and you don't have time to make them, you'll still create a satisfying sandwich by substituting a simple sourdough loaf.
Keep in mind the beauty of imperfection when you are assembling and adding the toppings to these rustic-style sandwiches. Whether it's a smooth aioli or salsa romesco, or a chunkier topping like long-cooked broccoli, the ingredients should never be uniformly spread to cover the entire piece of bread. Rather, spoon the ingredients unevenly over the slice, mounding them into shapely piles and leaving the crust exposed.
For the sandwiches that don't need to be put in the oven, it's easier to assemble them directly on the plate that you're serving them on. As you build your sandwich, season as you go. A squeeze of fresh lemon juice over the fava-bean puree, a drizzling of olive oil over the watercress, or a pinch of salt over sliced mozzarella lends more flavor and depth to the entire sandwich. A spoonful of chopped herbs, a pinch of fleur de sel, a few grindings of fresh black pepper, or a shaving of cheese is the only crowning touch these open-faced sandwiches call for. For shaved cheese, choose a firm, assertive aged cheese. The recipes call for Parmigiano-Reggiano because it's excellent quality and readily available, but feel free to substitute for it other hard aged cheeses, such as Manchego, Grana Padano, Vermont's shepherd cheese, aged Gouda, Vela aged dry jack. To achieve wide paper-thin slices, start out with a sizable, uniform-sized chunk of cheese that lets you get a grip on it with one hand. (You won't use all of the wedge.) Using a semi-flexible paring knife, a vegetable peeler, or a cheese shaver, shave the cheese directly over the sandwiches.
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