Viana La Place's Umbrian Black Olive Panino

September 17, 2014

Every week -- often with your help -- Food52's Executive Editor Kristen Miglore is unearthing recipes that are nothing short of genius.

Today: This month, we're teaming up with Kitchen Arts & Letters for a Back to the Kitchen Genius Series. Managing Partner Matt Sartwell is sharing memorable recipes from his 20+ years running the famed cookbook store; we get to revamp our weekday routines.

Next up: Simple pantry sandwiches can be so much more than peanut butter and jelly.

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It seems most cookbook authors think that if they're going to write a recipe for a sandwich, they have to make it a lot more trouble, to justify that they just tried to tell you how to put things between bread. Homemade condiments, cooked component parts, pickled garnishes.

Not this sandwich recipe, which is unusual in its simplicity, but still manages to teach us a few things we didn't already know. "If you tell people about this sandwich, it's so simple that they're likely to think that you have left something out." Kitchen Arts & LettersMatt Sartwell told me. "Sometimes -- maybe more often than not -- creativity is really about getting a few things to work together extremely well and not about adding layers and bells and whistles."

It comes from Viana La Place's Panini, Bruschetta, Crostini, a book that has the unfortunate luck of being recommended with the panini presses on Amazon, but contains very few griddled sandwiches, and lots more panini in the traditional Italian sense of the word (sandwiches).

La Place calls this "a panino for those who could make a meal of bread and olives." It's like a muffaletta, without meat, and with a lot less chopping.


First La Place has you pull some of the inner fluff from a good crusty roll -- a little like scooping a bagel, except it's not in the service of fewer carbs, but to make a little cubby to hold the olives. Be sure to eat all the matter you scoop out.

More: Another lovable pantry sandwich: the Pan Bagnat.

Here is where it turns into more than olives and bread: You rub a garlic clove over the scooped faces of the bread, and generously sprinkle them with lemon juice and olive oil. Then you pile in oil-cured black olives, which are salty and a little chewy, meatier and less acidic than a kalamata or basic martini olive. The last ingredient -- the J to its PB -- is long swoops of orange zest, which brighten and soften some of the olive's pungency.


If the impact of a sandwich full of olives sounds a bit much, consider this, from John Thorne's essay "Bread and Olives" in Simple Cooking:

"In much of the Mediterranean, appetite marches to a different drummer. The essential flavors of its cooking -- sour, pungent, bitter -- cause the mouth to pause. Garlic, anchovy, lemon, and all of their familiars give the eater a pungent spurt of pleasure that balances against a bland and starchy bulk of pasta, rice, bread, mush -- or simple hunger itself. The complex taste of a brine-cured olive halts appetite in its tracks, the tastebuds tracing the pattern of a sensory brocade."


So yes, you can, and should, make olives into a sandwich, and an olive sandwich into lunch. But, more than that, you can use La Place's panino techniques any time: Swipe a little garlic on your bread before you layer on tomatoes or cured meats. Or douse it in lemon and olive oil first (try this under a slab of fresh mozzarella). Consider zest. Fill a roll with marinated mushrooms, or roasted peppers, or pickles, and not much else. And don't be ashamed to scoop.

Viana La Place's Umbrian Black Olive Panino

From Panini, Bruschetta, Crostini: Sandwiches, Italian Style (HarperCollins, 1994)

Makes 1 panino

1 small crusty roll, with a firm, chewy crumb
1 garlic clove, peeled
Extra-virgin olive oil
Juice of 1/2 a small lemon
8 oil-cured black olives, pitted and cut in half
1 teaspoon orange zest, preferably from an organic orange (use a zester to create thin strips)

See the full recipe (and save it and print it) here.

Got a genius recipe to share -- from a classic cookbook, an online source, or anywhere, really? Please send it my way (and tell me what's so smart about it) at [email protected]. Thanks this week -- and all month! -- to Matt Sartwell at Kitchen Arts & Letters.

Photos by Mark Weinberg

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Richard Leonard
    Richard Leonard
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    Laurence Tillett
I'm an ex-economist, lifelong-Californian who moved to New York to work in food media in 2007, before returning to the land of Dutch Crunch bread and tri-tip barbecues in 2020. Dodgy career choices aside, I can't help but apply the rational tendencies of my former life to things like: recipe tweaking, digging up obscure facts about pizza, and deciding how many pastries to put in my purse for "later."


Richard L. April 23, 2015
A favourite and much used book for many years. Good to see it getting recognition here.
Antoine September 27, 2014
This was surprisingly delicious! I had no idea I too could make a lunch out of olives and bread. I didn't scoop out enough bread but I won't be as shy next time.
I_Fortuna September 17, 2014
If you are on a salt restricted diet as I am you might like to sub with Castelvetrano (sp.) olives. They are green with less salt, a tad sweet, and usually have pits but are delicious and might really be great this way. What a terrific recipe. I love olives.
Fred R. September 17, 2014
"It's like a muffaletta, without meat, and with a lot less chopping." My goodness, what a dummy I have been all these many years, chopping and spending a few minutes of work just to get really good food. Thank you for the suggestion on how to make a 10 minute sandwich in just three minutes (and with just a couple ingredients). No wonder folks today like TV such as The Chew and reality shows. Just point out that it tastes really good, and forget the modifiers.
Laurence T. September 17, 2014
Crusty fresh baguette slices, sweet butter and whole breakfast radishes (long, skinny, and half white/half pink). Sprinkle of salt. Perfection!
Erin S. September 17, 2014
Cream cheese mixed with a huge handful of chopped kalamata olives spread on some crusty bread (like a nice, fresh baguette) with sliced fresh tomato, a sprinkle of salt and a few turns of the pepper mill. My secret shame (but I LOVE it). :)
The P. September 17, 2014
Immediately recognized this sandwich recipe. WINNER. Viana La Place's cookbooks are have have been fixtures in my kitchen for over 20 years.
patricia G. September 17, 2014
scallions, halved lengthways, flaky salt and coarse pepper, excellent butter and bread. For those who could make a meal of bread and onions!
Marian B. September 17, 2014
I am so reassured to know that "those who could make a meal of bread and olives" is an official class of people, I have found my home, like Peter Pan and his lost boys.
Marian B. September 17, 2014
also this sandwich tastes good
JanieMac September 17, 2014
This sounds about perfect. Must make!
fiveandspice September 17, 2014
Truly genius! I can't wait to try this. It reminds me for some reason - I guess just in its brilliant combination of a few simple but heavy-hitting ingredients - of a sandwich Jeffrey Steingarten wrote about a long time ago that was just salted butter and shaved truffle on bread that you wrap tightly and let sit for a day or two and then eat.
Kenzi W. September 17, 2014
Marian B. September 17, 2014
Guys is it appropriate to say "lololololol" here or is that only okay via email?
mrslarkin September 17, 2014
So I am officially in love with olives, garlic and lemon. Bought a tub of green olives with lemon and garlic at Whole Foods last week (over by the fancy cheese), that I proceeded to scarf down steadily (which is how I typically eat olives.) Now I have a more civilized way of eating olives - in this gorgeous sandwich.

By the way, Viana La Place's cookbook/memoir My Italian Garden is one of my favorites.

lastnightsdinner September 17, 2014
I am at the office and I'm sad that I can't stuff this in my mouth immediately. Brilliant.