chickpea pan bagnatFFOL Editor 1
When I was in high school and we were finally allowed to go off-grounds for lunch, we often went to a local deli where my friends would get various sandwiches with turkey, salami, ham, or all of the above, plus, lettuce, tomato, onions, vinegar and oil and I, a vegetarian in a place baffled by this, would get a the same but with cheese instead. I have thought about this sandwich and what it did well — salt, pepper, vinegar, oil, crunch — and what it did poorly — a stack of tasteless sliced deli cheese as filler — for way too long in the years (and decades, sigh) since because I still love a sandwich full of vegetables, but find most vegetable sandwiches very disappointing, either heavy with cheese (and I love cheese, but not, like, an inch of it) or overcooked, under-seasoned vegetables. Why not avocado and crispy kale? Why not hummus, marinated cucumbers and carrots? Why not… make it for yourself, Deb? Which brings us, as ever, back here today.
The pan bagnat is a sandwich that is a specialty of Nice, France. The sandwich is composed of pain de campagne, a round whole wheat bread, and the filling is modeled after a classic salade niçoise. Here is where I’m supposed to tell you what’s in a classic niçoise, but I cannot because I fell in a deep Google rabbit hole and came out, hours later, still unsure because it turns out there’s a lot of argument. Tuna? Not a given; just anchovies were in the original, apparently. Potatoes? Not traditional! Green beans? Truly only sometimes! Cucumber, apparently unacceptable. Soon comments will appear below from people who have had authentic niçoise salads with all of these things and telling me I really know nothing and it’s true! I only know that it’s a beautiful day outside and I want to focus on getting us out there, and the picnic sandwich we’ll take with us.
Here, I play off the idea of a niçoise salad filling, but with vegetarian swaps because I love a hearty sandwich full of vegetables now as much as I did in my teens. For anchovies, I use capers. For tuna, I use fork crushed, well-seasoned chickpeas, similar to what we use in my smashed chickpea salad. I keep the hard-boiled eggs but you can skip them to make it vegan. I could not get pain de campagne, so I used a baguette, but a ciabatta, which is flatter, would have been even better. I know capers, olives, and raw red onion are divisive and that’s okay, I want you to make this sandwich exactly the way you’d love it most. Do you have basil leaves? Add them if you love them. What is essential, however, is that every layer is well-seasoned and that you are not ungenerous with the olive oil. Bagnat literally means “wet,” referring to soaked bread, catching all of the deliciousness running off the ingredients. I can’t wait to see your spins on this; I hope you get to go beautiful places together this holiday weekend.
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Chickpea Pan Bagnat
- 1 15-ounce can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- Zest and juice of half a lemon
- 1 tablespoon chopped flat-leaf parsley
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- Pepper flakes, to taste
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 2 8-inch ciabatta rolls, baguettes, or 1 round pan de champagne
- Olive oil
- 1/2 small red or white onion, very thinly sliced
- Red wine vinegar
- 2 hard-boiled eggs, peeled and thinly sliced (optional)
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 to 2 tablespoons capers, drained, chopped if they’re large
- 1/4 cup thinly black olives, Niçoise or oil-cured, pitted or unpitted
- 1 small cucumber, thinly sliced
- 1 to 2 plum tomatoes, thinly sliced
- A few basil leaves (optional)
Split your rolls or bread in half and drizzle both sides generously with olive oil. Spoon the smashed chickpeas on the bottom half first, then the onion, and a little drizzle of vinegar. Add eggs, if using, and season this layer with salt and pepper. Add the capers, olives, and cucumber. Add another gentle drizzle of olive oil and smaller dribble of vinegar, if you wish. Finish with the tomatoes and more salt and pepper on top, then basil, if you’re using it.
Close the sandwich(es) and wrap them in foil. Set a few of your heaviest pans or books on top for 10 minutes — this encourages the ingredients to mingle together and flattens the sandwich enough to ensure that you do not need to unhinge your jaw like a snake to take a bite. Eat right away, or keep wrapped sandwiches in the fridge, a cooler, or picnic basket until needed. I hope it’s soon.