Pan bagnat adds polish to picnic: A few easy changes upgrades standard picnic fare

New York Times News ServiceJune 19, 2013 

A picnic can be elegant while still being easy enough to put together in an afternoon. Just add a few refinements into the mix.

ANDREW SCRIVANI — The New York Times

Although we are a nation of committed picnic lovers, we do not, on the whole, give our picnic foods their due.

Be sure to pack a nice, thick picnic blanket; real flatware (though paper plates are fine); a few battery-powered candles (if dining at dusk); and at least one amazingly delicious, sturdy and picnic-friendly dish made from scratch. As long as you have that great homemade dish, all the other food can be store-bought.

The reason sandwiches are so popular for picnics is that they are easy to make, easy to pack and, above all, easy to eat.

The beauty of a pan bagnat: not only is it impressive and something different, it also wants to be made in advance. The longer it sits (up to 24 hours), the better it gets. The flavors marry, the oil and tomato juices mingle, the anchovies dissolve into the bread and all of it coalesces into a sophisticated whole that stays intact when you bite in.

Pan bagnats can be a catchall for whatever vegetables are on hand. I like to use crunchy vegetables for texture - crisp hot and sweet peppers, fennel, cucumber and scallions. Even string beans, peas and fava beans can all work. The tuna itself is optional; some versions I've eaten are ringed with just anchovies and sliced hard-cooked eggs. And this time of year, when wild salmon is in season, you could use some of the leftover cooked fish in place of tuna.

After you've assembled the pan bagnat, you have to flatten it. It's the only way to fit the Dagwood-esque sandwich into your mouth, and it brings all the ingredients together.

Another sturdy, appealing picnic recipe is a salad made from haricots verts, corn and carrots. Haricots verts, by the way, are skinny green beans, but you can use regular ones instead. Like the sandwich, this salad gets even better the longer it sits and is relatively indestructible.

Finally, for dessert, I love to bring poundcake, which holds up well and is hard to resist. A lemon poppy seed poundcake is summery and quick to make. One tip: cut up the poundcake before the picnic but leave it in the baking pan. It makes it easier to transport. Then serve it on its own, with ripe berries, and let the ants enjoy the crumbs.

PAN BAGNAT

Time: 20 minutes, plus 2 to 4 hours' sitting time; yield: 4 to 6 servings

1 (14-inch) long ciabatta loaf, split in half lengthwise

Extra-virgin olive oil

Sea salt and black pepper, as needed

2 (6- or 7-ounce) cans of tuna (preferably packed in oil), drained

1/4 cup sliced pitted olives

8 anchovies, chopped

1 tablespoon drained capers

1/2 small red onion, thinly sliced

1/2 red bell pepper, seeded and thinly sliced

White wine vinegar, as needed

1 large ripe tomato, thinly sliced

7 basil leaves

1. Drizzle bread with oil and season with salt and pepper.

2. Break tuna into chunks and spread over bottom of bread. Scatter olives, anchovies and capers over tuna; top with onion and bell pepper. Drizzle with more oil and sprinkle with vinegar to taste. Lay tomato slices over sandwich. Drizzle lightly with oil and season with salt and pepper. Tear basil leaves over sandwich and cover with other bread half.

3. Wrap sandwich tightly in a double layer of plastic wrap and cover with a dish towel. Weigh sandwich down with something heavy (books or heavy pots work well) for 2 to 4 hours at room temperature, flipping the sandwich halfway through. Unwrap, slice crosswise and serve.

HARICOTS VERTS, CORN AND CARROT SALAD WITH MUSTARD VINAIGRETTE

Time: 35 minutes; yield: 6 to 8 servings

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, more as needed

2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

1 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1/4 cup minced fresh chives

Black pepper, as needed

1 pound haricots verts or green beans, trimmed

2-2/3 cups cooked fresh corn kernels (from about 4 corn cobs)

1/2 pound carrot, peeled and coarsely grated (2 cups)

1. In a small bowl, whisk together salt, vinegar, garlic and mustard. Whisking constantly, slowly whisk in oil until incorporated. Whisk in chives and pepper.

2. Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Drop in haricots verts and cook until just tender, 2 to 3 minutes. Drain, cool and chop into bite-size pieces.

3. In a large bowl, toss together haricots verts, corn and carrot. Toss in dressing and season with salt and pepper.

LEMON POPPY SEED POUNDCAKE

Time: 1 hour 20 minutes; yield: 8 servings

Butter, for greasing pan

1-3/4 cups all-purpose flour, more for pan

Zest of 2 lemons

1 cup sugar

1/2 cup buttermilk

3 tablespoons plus 4 teaspoons lemon juice

3 large eggs

1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt

2/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon poppy seeds

1/2 cup confectioners' sugar

1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour an 8-inch loaf pan.

2. In a bowl, combine lemon zest and sugar and rub with your fingers until it looks like wet sand. Whisk in buttermilk, 3 tablespoons lemon juice and the eggs. In a separate bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Whisk dry ingredients into the batter, then whisk in oil and poppy seeds.

3. Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center emerges clean, about 1 hour. Let cool in pan until warm to the touch, then turn out onto a baking rack set over a rimmed baking sheet. Turn cake right side up.

4. Whisk together remaining 4 teaspoons lemon and the confectioners' sugar. Use a pastry brush to spread glaze evenly over top and sides of cake.

Cool completely before slicing.

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