Wednesday, July 3, 2013

The perfect sandwich for summer: Patricia Wells' Pan Bagnat

“When my husband and I acquired our farmhouse in Provence…, our visits were generally limited to weekend getaways from Paris. For the train ride back to the city, a snack was essential, and pan bagnat, or "bathed bread," the Provençal sandwich found at every bakery and market in the region, became our standby. It's inexpensive, travels well, and includes many of our favorite Provençal ingredients: tomatoes, local bell peppers, black niçoise olives, anchovies and tuna, salt, and pepper—a salade niçoise, effectively, between slices of crusty bread. I'd prepare the sandwiches on Saturday, scooping out some of the crumb of the bread, then letting the pan bagnat marinate, tightly wrapped and weighted down in the refrigerator, until departure time the next day, which always made for moist and satisfying sandwiches.” You have no idea how I wish I didn’t have to add the quotation marks around these words from Patricia Wells,  in her most recent book —“Salad as a Meal” (William Morrow, 2011).  Because if there was ever anywhere on earth I’d love to live it would be in France.  And memories of a long ago visit to Provence come sweeping back at the mere mention of Pan Bagnat.
Our ‘cooking vacation’ took place in the tiny town of Bonnieux in the Luberon, the rocky heart of Provence.  Every day we’d set out in our enormous Citroen and visit the tiny towns that dot the area.  Every day another market would entice us with its cheeses, breads, olives, all the makings of great picnics.  At the end of the day we’d return home where our hostess awaited our return.  Seated at her kitchen table glasses of Kir or Rose in hand, we’d watch and learn as the great Nathalie Waag prepared our multi-course dinners.  Nathalie was a true Provencal cook.  She used every local ingredient from every local market.   The meals were amazing as much for their simplicity as for their flavors.  It was a magical week. And when we returned home we took everything we’d learned home with us.  Though Nathalie never imparted the secret of Pan Bagnat, we’d picnicked on variations of the sandwich at every opportunity.  Because even though today’s version is made with tuna, its close Italian cousin, “Pan Bagna”, can be filled with charcuterie –salami, mortadella, and prosciutto. Learning how to make these sandwiches can make summer lunches and picnics a snap. But I did make a change that made a big difference from my first encounters with the sandwich.
The Original Pan Bagnat...
very hard to handle
as you can see. 
The original recipe calls for a big round loaf of bread.  The bread is scooped out to give the layers of ingredients all the space they need.  The top is then put back on top, the sandwich weighted down and left in the refrigerator overnight.  The result is rather daunting to serve.  Cut into wedges,  the resulting serving belies the whole idea of a sandwich:  Something which can be picked up and eaten with your hands.  The original Pan Bagna makes it almost impossible to perform this feat.  It’s too big and ungainly.  So when I made Ms. Well’s Pan Bagna, I chose not a round but a rectangular loaf of country bread. 
Not only did this make it possible to pick it up with your hands and eat it, it also allowed another breakthrough.  In our house, one ingredient, in particular, does not fly.  It’s the black olive.  Andrew simply does not like them.  But by using the rectangular loaf I could load one side of the sandwich with everything but the black olives while on the other, I loaded them on for myself.  As long as I could keep track of which end was which, I was home free—enjoying my black olives while Andrew encountered not a single one.  You can do this with any ingredient in the list.  As to the tuna, I had a beautiful grilled tuna steak left over from Anna Pump’s Grilled Tuna Steak with Lemon Sauce.  You can, of course, follow Ms. Well’s recipe and use canned tuna. But please find the best can you can. It will make all the difference.  Here’s the recipe:

Recipe for Tuna Pan Bagna from Patricia Wells.
Serves 4. Comes together in under 30 minutes. Rests overnight or for a minimum of 4 hours.

2 ripe tomatoes, cored and thinly sliced crosswise
Kosher salt, to taste
1 (5-oz.) can olive oil-packed tuna, drained
4 scallions, thinly sliced
½ small red bell pepper, stemmed, seeded, and thinly sliced into 2" lengths
cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 tbsp. Dijon mustard
1 (7") round rustic bread loaf, split (about 20 oz.)
1 small bulb fennel, cored and thinly sliced crosswise
1 small cucumber, thinly sliced crosswise
2 hard-boiled eggs, thinly sliced crosswise
8 oil-cured anchovies, drained
10 salt-cured black olives, pitted and halved
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1. Sprinkle tomato slices liberally with salt and transfer to a colander; set aside to drain for 30 minutes. 

In a small bowl, break up tuna with a fork and stir in scallions and bell pepper; set aside. In another small bowl, whisk together oil and mustard; set dressing aside. 

Scoop the insides from the bread loaf and discard or reserve for another use. 

Place tomatoes evenly over bottom of bread and then top with fennel and cucumbers; spread tuna mixture over top, and then top with egg slices, anchovies, and olives. Pour dressing evenly over ingredients, and season with salt and pepper; cover with top of bread, pressing lightly to compact.

2. Wrap sandwich tightly in plastic wrap and place on a baking sheet; 

top with another baking sheet and weight with a cast-iron skillet. Refrigerate for at least 4 hours or overnight. 

Slice and serve. 


  1. Wow - that looks delicious! I look forward to trying this out - Yum!

  2. Heaven between 2 thick slices of delicious bread....what a meal!

    1. Thank you both for taking time to comment. This is really worthwhile making. Once you've got the hang of it, you can experiment with any number of fillings! Enjoy!

  3. Monte this looks awesome, thank you for sharing. I'm going to leave out the hard boiled eggs, because as I'm sure you know they are the devil's kin, but this looks like what I want to pack for my next long trip.

  4. James, thanks so much for taking the time to comment. This sandwich is incredibly flexible. Today I am serving one that has a virtual salumeria inside--cappy ham, mortadella, salami and provolone cheese with layers of tomato and cucumber. So feel free to omit the eggs and add anything you'd like. Enjoy!

  5. I've been obsessing about that stuff sandwich since you posted it. Tomorrow I make it. I cannot wait!

    1. This is a winner Michael. Let us know what you think. All best, Your Uncle.

  6. You garnered inspiration from two of my favorite cookbook authors. I love your solution to the olives. Now you, truly, can have a happy household!

    1. Thanks so much Betsy! I am glad you approved! All best to you. Monte