When in Doubt, Picnic with a Pan Bagnat

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This post is part of a month-long August series in which we asked writers to share their favorite sandwich recipes with us to celebrate National Sandwich Month.

Mostly for the better, sometimes for a meltdown worst, our current lockdown has resulted in a lot of family time. And while I’ve treasured so much of it — each and every Battleship game, croquet tournament, TV-tray dinner, and 30 Rock binge — we’ve all had our moments. The quarantine means compartmentalizing a lot of wants and needs, including the stress relievers we usually rely on to hold it together.

In the last few weeks, I've found the quickest way to handle any cooped-up (or restless or cranky) day is to unplug and get the kids outside. Whether it's a local park, Hill Country for wide-open spaces, or our front yard, moving a simple meal from the table to a blanket and having unfettered time together is a great way to recharge.

Maybe I should blame my English major, but I’ve always been a sucker for the romance of picnics. They’re an excuse to have baguette sandwiches, potato chips, and cornichons for dinner, after all. There is usually chocolate and cold pink wine involved. And even though I am, mercifully, fully clothed, I inevitably think of Manet’s painting "Le Déjeuner sur l'herbe" because an outdoor feast feels decadent, like we’re breaking the rules on a Monday night.

A picnic also removes the usual expectations of table manners. It’s a free pass to lie on your back and watch clouds drift, or on your side, eye level with the grass. Like thoughts and conversation that meander as haphazardly as a monarch, eating is a grazing affair that moves on its own time.

I have a handful of favorite picnics. One involved a ferry to Ellis Island and a birthday lunch for my college friend Danielle. Another was packed for me and a day of strawberry picking along the Hudson River. Every summer, we visit my parents in Minnesota and pack a basket to take on the boat for loon-seeking excursions.

Years ago, I cooked at a chateau in the South of France. On the occasional day off, I’d take a ferry from Cannes to Île Saint-Honorat, a tiny island a mile off the coast inhabited by an abbey, cloaked monks who moved as silently as ghosts, and hundreds of lizards. After ambling around the rocky perimeter and being soothed by the slurp of the Mediterranean, I’d find a shady perch and unpack my lunch. It was always the same thing: a Niçoise sandwich whose name translates to “bathed bread.” I love the pungent, salty flavors of tuna, capers, anchovies, and olive paste (called tapenade in France, olivada in Italy). After the sandwich is assembled, it’s pressed under the weight of a cutting board and a cast-iron skillet (or whatever you want to use), so the vinaigrette melds with the bread. Choose a sturdy loaf with a crackly crust that can absorb some of the dressing but still retain a crunch.

My Pan Bagnat

Makes 4 sandwiches


  • 2 medium shallots, finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 6-ounce cans tuna in olive oil, drained
  • 2 tablespoons capers
  • 6 anchovies, finely chopped
  • Pinch red pepper flakes
  • Finely grated zest of 1 lemon (preferably organic)
  • ¼ cup soft fresh herbs (such as parsley, chervil, chives, tarragon, or basil)
  • 4 crusty sandwich rolls or 1 loaf ciabatta cut into 4 squares
  • 3 tablespoons tapenade
  • 4 large lettuce leaves or handful of arugula or mixed greens
  • 1 large ripe tomato, thinly sliced
  • 2 hard-cooked eggs, sliced
  • Grated carrot (optional)
  • Thinly sliced radishes (optional)

In a medium bowl, whisk together the shallots, mustard, lemon juice, vinegar, olive oil, a small pinch of salt (capers, anchovies, and tapenade will also add salt), and a generous grinding of black pepper. Add the tuna, capers, anchovies, red pepper flakes, lemon zest, and herbs and gently combine.

Slice the rolls or squares of ciabatta in half, horizontally, and place on cutting board, cut side up. Spread the top halves with tapenade. Place the lettuce on the bottom halves and top evenly with the tuna mixture, tomato, eggs, and carrot and radishes, if using. Top with a drizzle of oil. Place the top halves of the rolls on the bottom halves and gently push together.

Place another cutting board on top of the sandwiches and top with another weight (such as a Dutch oven or cast-iron skillet), letting it press the sandwiches for about 30 minutes. Serve immediately or wrap in parchment paper and refrigerate for up to 4 hours.

Tags: Healthy Recipes, Quick Recipe Ideas, International Cuisine, Summer recipes

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Written By

Paula Disbrowe

Paula Disbrowe writes about the endless adventure of food and travel. Her stories have taken her to vanilla plantations in... See Full Bio

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