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.
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 & Letters' Matt 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.
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)
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