It’s still gray and rainy in my corner of the world, but I know summer is coming – I can feel it. And with that summer feeling comes the irresistible urge to dine al fresco. But while eating outside can be wonderfully romantic, it can also be a logistical nightmare. There’s temperature control to consider, sogginess to anticipate and prevent, and ease of transport to evaluate. Not all food is picnic food and not all picnic food is created equal. So, to help you take the guesswork out of packing your basket, I’m launching a season-long Summer Picnic Series. Today’s Pressed Picnic Sandwiches is the first installment in a collection of picnic-friendly recipes that will appear on this blog twice a month from now to September. So, let’s get started with these born-for-the-basket Pressed Picnic Sandwiches.
When I was a kid, mayo kinda wigged me out. Oh sure, I devoured sandwiches filled with mayo-riddled tuna salad, but if those sandwiches traveled and/or sat anywhere for more than 30 minutes, I was done. As a result, I could never cart any sandwich that came into contact with mayo to school with me. Luckily, I’m old enough to remember a time when sandwiches of the peanut butter variety weren’t enemy number one, so that was my default. Not exactly riveting stuff when it’s all you ever eat.
Although, I have outgrown many food phobias since leaving the sixth grade, my fear of aged mayo persists. While it’s by no means a debilitating fear, it does sit in direct conflict with my love of picnics. Enter these Pressed Picnic Sandwiches. They’re tasty, portable, cute as hell, AND they don’t even know what mayo is. They’re the only sandwiches I’ve encountered that not only can be made ahead of time, they also improve with time. When you find the sandwich of your dreams, it’s kinda emotional, you know?
I think I speak for most people when I say soggy bread is hella gross. I don’t care if your sandwich has a plethora of delicious fillings – if the bread has turned to mush that sandwich is beyond redemption. In my opinion, tomatoes and mayo are the primary contributors to bread sogginess. As a result, they have no place in my Pressed Picnic Sandwiches. Instead, I opted for a green olive tapenade and limited the sandwich’s mushability (it’s a word if I say it’s a word) by eliminating the bread’s sponge-like innards. If tapenade is not your thing, butter, pesto or a simple sub sauce will suffice. Whatever spread you choose, make sure it’s oil or fat based – this will create a sort of barrier between the bread and fillings with a higher water content.
Speaking of fillings, my Pressed Picnic Sandwiches bear more than a passing resemblance to the famous muffuletta, a New Orleans classic that I have in no way rivaled. My sandwiches feature salami, mozzarella, grilled zucchini, spinach and radish slices, but don’t feel limited to these choices. Apparently, if you’ve sealed the bread with an appropriate spread you can put just about anything in your picnic sandwich and the bread won’t go soggy. Perhaps I should have put this theory to the test by adding tomato to the sandwich, but I didn’t have the guts. Too many bad memories.
After you build your sandwich, it’s just a matter of weighing it down with something heavy. This may seem like a bad move, but the pressing sort of keeps the toppings filed into neat separate layers. Nothing bleeds into one another and the bread maintains a surprisingly crisp exterior. I have a very limited knowledge of sandwich-related science, so I won’t speculate on why it works, but it works! Once pressed, your sandwich is ready for slicing, wrapping, and, of course, picnicking.
So, there you have it. A picnic sandwich that travels well, is free of sogginess, and paradoxically can be made ahead of time. And the best part? These Pressed Picnic Sandwiches contain absolutely no mayo to panic over. Okay, so maybe I’m the only one who cares about that, but I do care a lot.
- 2 small crusty baguettes
- 3/4 cup pimento stuffed olives, drained
- 2 cloves garlic, crushed
- 4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
- 3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
- 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- 1 teaspoon salt, divided
- 1 zucchini
- 12 slices genoa salami
- 12 slices mozzarella cheese
- 1/2 cup baby spinach, washed and dried
- 3 radishes, thinly sliced
- Slice the baguettes lengthwise and remove the insides to form a boat-like shape. Set aside.
- Place the olives and garlic in a large food processor and blitz until a paste forms.
- With the food processor still running, stream in 3 tablespoons of the olive oil and the red wine vinegar.
- Spoon tapenade into a bowl and stir in the crushed red pepper flakes and 1/2 teaspoon of the salt.
- Cut the zucchini into 1/4-inch thick sheets and place them in a large mixing bowl. Add the remaining olive oil and salt, and toss to coat.
- Heat a well-oiled cast iron griddle over high heat until smoking. Add the zucchini and grill for 2-3 minutes a side. Remove the zucchini from the heat and set aside to cool.
- Brush the inside of the baguette boats with the green olive tapenade.
- Layer salami slices, cheese slices, spinach leaves, grilled zucchini sheets and radish slices on top on the bottom half of the baguette boats. Place the remaining baguette halves on top and wrap in plastic wrap.
- Place the wrapped sandwiches on a cookie sheet and cover with a heavy cast iron pot lid or a stack of heavy books. Press the sandwiches overnight in the fridge.
- Slice sandwiches in half and enjoy.