A French Twist in the Medina: Pan Tunisienne Lunch Pail

September 30, 2010
Author Notes

I love making meals by the seat of my pantry. In a Zingerman’s catalog, their annual “Fall Food Buyer’s Guide” I read about this delicious sounding sandwich Tunisienne. Foreign intrigue. It was less recipe than road map drawn on the palm of your hand. It calls for things I typically keep in the pantry; those being really good oil packed tuna, preserved lemons and harissa. But it recommends a few other paths to follow. So into the kitchen tent I went. I came out with a sandwich that is somewhere between my favorite pan bagnat and a muffaletta sans pork products. For the “picnic” theme I’m also including a couscous “tabbouleh” Provençale. This is based on a recipe I’ve been making for years from the inspiration of Patricia Wells. It substitutes couscous for bulger, and it works perfectly. Please remember that tabbouleh is a very green salad so be generous with the parsley and mint. If your lunch pail aka tiffin has compartments you can wrap the sandwich in parchment and save it in one and in another you might keep tabbouleh. - pierino —pierino

Test Kitchen Notes

This was a very good and original twist on pan bagnat. The use of couscous instead of bulgur in the tabbouleh was excellent. – Alain —The Editors

  • Serves 2
  • Pain
  • 1 or 2 Italian loaves or the equivalent in ciabatta etc., but sturdy enough to handle olive oil, depending on shape
  • 1 10 ounce (200 gm) can of oil packed tuna (As Do Mar, or Ortiz “conserva” are highly preferred)
  • 1 Preserved lemon, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon salt packed capers, rinsed in cold water
  • 1/2 cup Moroccan style oil cured olives, pitted
  • 2 Anchovy fillets (optional)*
  • Harissa to your own tolerance
  • Extra virgin olive oil (arbequina is our favorite for this)
  • fleur de sel (or other sea salt)
  • *Note to cook regarding anchovies; the flat tins from Morocco are terrible. Read the label for country of origin. You are better off using the flat jarred ones OR if you go through a lot of anchovies, the big tinned type packed in salt. A little more work
  • Couscous tabbouleh
  • 1 cup flat leaf parsley
  • 1 cup very fresh mint
  • 1 cup dry couscous
  • 1/2 cup (approximately) cherry tomatoes, rinsed and halved
  • 1 shallot, roughly chopped
  • ¼ cup (approximate) extra virgin olive oil
  • Sea salt (as in fleur de sel)
  • 1 Joey Ramone action figure to rock your casbah (optional)
In This Recipe
  1. Pit the olives, drain the capers. Place in a food processor bowl along with anchovies (if you are using). Give this a quick couple of pulses. The texture should be coarse---esssentially it's a minimalist olive salad.
  2. Split your bread, which ever type you are using, on the horizon. Lay the halves out on a sheet of plastic wrap. On one cut side drizzle some olive oil. On the other half side smear some harissa.
  3. Build the sandwich. Spoon out some of your olive/caper mixture onto the oil half of the bread. Open the can of tuna, don't cut yourself, and spread over the oiled half.
  4. Depending on the size of your preserved lemon you may need only 1/2 or 1/4 of the whole. You decide. Distribute chopped lemon. I'm not holding your hand on this step.
  5. Give it a grind of pepper and a little more salt (it won't need much). Close up the sandwich, wrap tightly in cling wrap and refrigerate while you prepare the couscous.
  6. Wash and dry the parsley and mint. Chop them together. Meanwhile (the "meanwhile" step) cook the couscous according to package instructions---time varies according to size and shape.
  7. Drain the cooked couscous. Add shallot, tomatoes and the parsley-mint mixture. Add some olive oil. Use your clean hands to work this all together. Add salt to taste.
  8. For the lunch pail, unwrap the pan tunisienne and cut in half (or quarter depending on size of loaf). Wrap that up in parchment, tape closed if neccessary. Stick it in the lunch pail. In a separate container portion out the tabbouleh.
  9. Optional but good, slice up some melon. Wrap and add to the pail.

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Standup commis flâneur, and food historian. Pierino's background is in Italian and Spanish cooking but of late he's focused on frozen desserts. He is now finishing his cookbook, MALAVIDA! Can it get worse? Yes, it can. Visit the Malavida Brass Knuckle cooking page at Facebook and your posts are welcome there.