I want to dub this summer the summer of picnics. Partly because I want to eat this sandwich all summer long and partly because I am really in love with the idea of picnics right now, particularly after spending an absolutely gorgeous weekend in D.C. with some of my favorite people in flawless weather that involved a lot of lazing about outside.
I’m finding that travel, even as short as weekends away, is a trigger for intense reflection on my current living situation. Based on recent travels to Chicago and D.C., I have a renewed gratitude for the booming food scene in Houston, but also a renewed longing for walkable commutes, better public transportation and a generally more happening city scene.
Back to picnics: this sandwich was born from the inescapable siren call of an ancient pin that introduced me to the concept of pan bagnat, or a pressed sandwich with origins in the South of France (which traditionally includes tuna and anchovies). Shooter’s sandwiches are another similar concept, as I just learned from Serious Eats. The novelty of this sandwich, apart from the gargantuan, dramatically layered slices, lies in the fact that it’s easily assembled and very portable (i.e. perfect picnic food).
I brought this sandwich to a BBQ over Memorial Day (right before the torrential rain + flooding struck Houston) where it was happily consumed alongside grilled skewers, chips + guac, pasta salad, this tart (RIDICULOUSLY GOOD), and tons and tons of other desserts. My friend told me she was still thinking about the sandwich days later. Though that is probably just her being generous, this really is a delicious sandwich. Each element brings a lot to the sandwich in my opinion–the briny tapenade, eye-poppingly acidic marinated beets, sweet and mellow caramelized onions, tangy goat cheese, herbed and toothsome mushrooms, tender zucchini, and juicy tomatoes–but it’s also easily customized. The mushrooms could easily be dropped in favor of grilled eggplant; you could omit the goat cheese for a vegan version (or add a layer of almond feta, if you’re ambitious); you could simply layer in roasted beets instead of marinating shredded ones.
Vegetables can easily be added or subtracted, based on what’s in season; I found all of my exceptionally flavorful ingredients at a brand-new Whole Foods, where I also picked up the delicious whole wheat boule used for this sandwich. Also popcorn because hello does a more perfect picnic snack exist?
Note: I initially tried slicing the sandwich into the slices pictured in this post, but found that slicing the boule into wedges, pizza-style, allowed the sandwich to hold together better. Slice as you desire at your own risk.
Vegetarian Pressed Picnic Sandwich
- Caramelized onion:
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 3 cups onion sliced thinly
- Quick olive tapenade:
- ¾ cup kalamata olives
- 1/3 cup cucumber
- 1 tablespoon capers
- 2 teaspoons dried parsley or ~1/2 cup of fresh parsley
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder or 1 fat clove of garlic, minced
- black pepper to taste
- Marinated beet:
- 1 cooked beet
- 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
- 2 tablespoons water
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- ½ teaspoon mustard
- salt and pepper
- Sauteed zucchini:
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 large zucchini sliced lengthwise into thin strips
- Sauteed thyme mushrooms:
- ½ tablespoon olive oil
- 1.5 cup white mushrooms sliced
- 1 teaspoon fresh thyme
- For assembling:
- approximately 2 lb. loaf whole wheat boule I used a Whole Foods loaf from their bakery section
- 4 oz goat cheese
- 1 teaspoon dried thyme
- 1 medium tomato sliced and drained of juices
- For the caramelized onion:
- Heat olive oil in a medium frying pan and add sliced onion; sprinkle liberally with salt. Cook over medium heat for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally, until softened and golden. Lower heat and add a splash of water if onions start to dry out.
- For the quick olive tapenade:
- In a food processor, combine all tapenade ingredients and process until a textured mixture forms.
- For the marinated beet:
- Shred the beet finely using a hand grater. Whisk together the red wine vinegar, water, sugar, mustard, and a liberal amount of salt and pepper. Let the grated beets marinate in the marinade until ready to assemble the sandwich.
- For the sauteed zucchini:
- Once onions are done cooking, saute the zucchini in olive oil in the same frying pan over medium heat, laying the strips in a single layer in the pan. Cook on each side until brown--this will take several batches.
- _For the sauteed thyme mushrooms:
- Once the zucchini is done, saute mushrooms in olive oil, thyme and salt in the same frying pan over medium heat.
- To assemble:
- Slice the top third of your bread boule, and then hollow the center using your hands, leaving about an inch border around all sides and making sure not to punch through any surfaces. Hollow out the top third of the loaf as well.
- Stir the thyme into the goat cheese and spread over the interior of the bread boule. Layer the rest of the cooked vegetables into the bread boule until you reach the top. Place the top third of the loaf back onto the sandwich. Wrap sandwich tightly in plastic or foil and place a heavy object on top to press it at room temperature for around 4 hours, or up to overnight in the fridge. Slice into wedges (recommended) or slices (a bit trickier) when ready to serve.