Friday, July 27, 2012

Pan Bagnat for a Picnic

Yesterday, Stella received a call from a cycling club. Twelve of their members are embarking on a day tour today and have requested pan bagnat 'to go' for their trip. The club will begin their tour in the city where they live, a two hour cycle west, and will  be stopping by en masse to pick up their order before cycling another hour to their lunch stop. Assembling pan bagnat for twelve hungry cyclists gives Stella an idea. Why not add enough ingredients for two more loaves, and then after the shop is closed, she and her two daughters, Zoe and Kendra, as well as employees Kevin and Savannah, if they want to come too, can take a picnic to the beach. It will be a welcome surprise for Zoe, fifteen and Kendra, twelve, who must entertain themselves this afternoon while Stella works downstairs - their theatre camp doesn't start until next week, and their dad won't be home on leave from his year managing the start up of a new hotel in Dubai until the week after that.

This morning, Stella has enlisted her daughters to help with the pan bagnat, which begins with the making of a  good sized batch of freshly made pesto. Zoe is well on her way to becoming a good cook under the watchful eye of her mother, so she can manage the pesto, but she is a bit scatterbrained at times so Kendra is there to make sure she doesn't forget any ingredients. Kevin makes the trip to the local produce market for the freshest ingredients possible, and to the absolute gem of a bakery for the wonderfully aromatic, slightly springy, golden crusted French baguettes. Savannah attends to the customers, while Stella herself pops out of the kitchen to greet them and share a quick word now and again.

Pan bagnat is French for 'bathed bread'. Layers of thinly sliced vegetables, cheeses and other ingredients are layered inside baguettes and then the whole thing is wrapped tightly and pressed under a heavy weight for a few hours. As the pan bagnat is pressed, the flavours of the ingredients saturate the inside of the loaves with briny and delicious flavours, like a 'portable Salade Nicoise.'* By the time the cycling club arrives, the pan bagnat will have been marinating for two hours. Stella wonders how the club is going to transport the long and relatively heavy loaves, but the club's organizer has assured her they have that concern covered.

At 11:30 a.m., twelve neon clad cyclists roll up to Stella's. Looking like a swarm of some sort of tall insect with their bug-eyed sunglasses and ventilated oddly shaped aerodynamic helmets, they prop their bikes against the building and a few of them stand watch over their gear while a few others enter the shop.

"We're here for the pan bagnat,' says their fearless leader, grinning and removing his sunglasses to reveal white patches where the glasses have protected his eyes from the tanning effects of the sun.

Stella and Kevin bring out the six, twenty-four inch loaves, which are promptly paid for. They watch as the loaves are placed next to ice packs and under a large cooler presumably filled with energy bars, fruit and Gatorade, in a covered child carrier - sans child - pulled behind one of the bikes. Stella and Kevin smile at each other as if to say, "Aha! Now we know." The cyclists mount their bikes once more, and waving, set off.

*Recipe for Pan Bagnat from Moosewood Restaurant Cooks at Home

1 baguettte or other long thin French bread
1 garlic clove, pressed
1/4 cup olive oil
1 tomato, thinly sliced
1 cucumber, thinly sliced
1/2 red Vadalia (purple) onion, thinly sliced
1/2 cup pitted and sliced Calamata or other ripe black olives
salt and ground black pepper to taste

Optional Ingredients
4 ounces sliced mild provolone or other cheese
2 hard-boiled eggs, sliced
1 green or red bell pepper, thinly sliced
1/4 cup capers, rinsed and drained
1/2 cup roasted red peppers, thinly sliced
anchovies to taste
1 cup artichoke hearts, sliced into quarters
1/2 cup pesto- recipe below
herbs, such as basil, marjoram, thyme, oregano

Slice the bread in half lengthwise, nearly all the way through. Open the loaf and spread the garlic on one of the cut sides. Drizzle the olive oil on both sides (and spread with pesto as desired). Layer the tomato, cucumber, onion, olives, and any optional ingredients on one half of the bread. Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste. Close the loaf and wrap it tightly with plastic wrap or aluminum foil. Weight the full length of the Pan Bagnat with a heavy book (or with a baking tray topped with bricks, a 25 pound weight, a toddler, or whatever you can find) for 1-3 hours.
Unwrap, slice and serve!

Pesto Genovese - makes 2 cups                

3 cups loosely packed fresh basil leaves
1/3 cup pine nuts or chopped almonds
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
3 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup olive oil
salt and ground black pepper to taste

Whirl all the ingredients, except the oil, in a food processor or blender. When everything is well chopped, add the oil in a thin stream to form a smooth paste. If you are using a blender, it is necessary to prechop the herbs and nuts by hand.


Pesto Provencal - makes 1 cup

1 cup loosely packed fresh parsley leaves
2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves
2 tablespoons fresh rosemary leaves
1 tablespoon fresh oregano leaves
1/4 cup coarsely chopped scallions
1/3 cup pine nuts or chopped almonds
1/4 cup vegetable oil
salt and ground pepper to taste

method as for Pesto Genovese

Writing and photos by Rebecca

1 comment:

  1. It's obvious that Stella enjoys her job, which she'd probably describe it more as "her life." I like how she is so caring to her customers and interested in their lives. I'll bet her daughters are as sweet as she is.