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Provencal picnic

Celebrate Bastille Day with a menu to enjoy en plein air.

By Adam Ried
July 11, 2010

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In spirit and practice, Bastille Day, July 14, is to France what the Fourth of July is to the United States: a nationwide celebration with parades, parties, and fireworks.

And picnics, of course! Here we look to the south of France, particularly Provence and the Riviera, for inspiration. Pan bagnat is the superstar sandwich of Nice, ubiquitous in the city’s food shops and markets. The name translates loosely as “bathed bread.” Think of it as a salade nicoise – tuna, anchovies, hard-cooked egg, tomatoes, olives, and more – on bread. Moist and drippy, the sandwich is “bathed” in olive oil and the juices exuded by the filling. Accompany the sandwich with tangy marinated vegetables a la grecque, a French classic, and earthy roasted chickpeas, which you pop as if they were cocktail nuts.

Pan Bagnat

Makes 1 large sandwich, serving 2 to 4

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

2 cloves garlic, grated

1½ tablespoons minced anchovies

1 small loaf crusty French bread, preferably Iggy’s francese (see Kitchen Aide), halved horizontally

12 large basil leaves, torn

1 5-ounce can oil-packed tuna, drained of about half the oil

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1/3 cup Kalamata or nicoise olives, pitted and roughly chopped

2 hard-cooked eggs, sliced

1 medium tomato (about 8 ounces), cored and cut into ½-inch-thick slices

Salt and black pepper

4 very thin slices red onion

1/3 cup thin strips roasted red bell pepper

In a medium bowl, mix the oil, garlic, and half the anchovies. Using your fingers, pull out enough of the soft interior from each bread half to form a shallow cavity. Brush the interior of each piece of bread with half of the oil-garlic mixture; scatter half the basil on each piece. Set aside.

In the bowl used for the oil mixture, mix the tuna, lemon juice, and remaining anchovies and spread the mixture evenly over one of the bread halves. Arrange the olives, eggs, and tomato evenly over the tuna, and sprinkle with ½ teaspoon salt and black pepper to taste. Arrange the onion and roasted pepper strips over the filling, top with the other bread half, and wrap tightly with plastic wrap. Place the wrapped sandwich on a sturdy plate, top with a heavy weight, and leave until the bread is almost soaked and the filling is compacted, about an hour. Unwrap, cut into portions, and serve.

Vegetables a la Grecque

Makes about 8 cups

1 tablespoon coriander seeds, dry-toasted in a skillet over medium heat until fragrant

2 teaspoons fennel seeds, dry-toasted in a skillet over medium heat until fragrant

2 bay leaves, crumbled

½ teaspoon whole black peppercorns

3 sprigs fresh thyme

¼ cup parsley leaves plus 2 tablespoons chopped parsley, for garnish

3 cloves garlic, smashed

Pinch crushed red pepper flakes

2 large fennel bulbs, sliced ½ inch thick (about 6 cups) and about 3 tablespoons chopped fronds, for garnish

½ pound shallots, peeled and halved lengthwise if large

Salt

1½ tablespoons Pernod, Ricard, or other anise-flavored spirit

2 tablespoons white wine vinegar

¾ cup dry white wine

½ cup chicken broth

¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil

½ large lemon, thinly sliced

12 ounces crimini mushrooms, halved (quartered, if large; about 8 cups)

Place the coriander and fennel seeds, bay leaves, peppercorns, thyme, parsley leaves, garlic, and red pepper flakes in doubled paper coffee filters, and tie the filters securely shut with kitchen twine.

Arrange the fennel slices and shallots in a single layer in a very large skillet, and tuck the seasoning packet in with the vegetables. Sprinkle 1 teaspoon salt, anise-flavored spirit, and vinegar over the vegetables; add the wine, broth, 2 tablespoons of the oil, and ½ cup water. Scatter the lemon slices over the vegetables, set the skillet over medium-high heat, and bring to a strong simmer, shaking pan occasionally. Cover pan, reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer until fennel and shallots are barely tender, about 6 minutes. Add the mushrooms, stir to mix, adjust heat to medium-high, and simmer, uncovered and stirring occasionally, until mushrooms are just tender, about 5 minutes longer. With a slotted spoon, remove the vegetables from the skillet and cool to room temperature; discard the seasoning packet and lemon slices. Return the skillet to medium-high heat, bring the liquid to a boil, and reduce by about half, 2 to 5 minutes. Off heat, add the remaining oil, swirl pan to combine, and pour over the vegetables. Stir to coat with the dressing, cover, and refrigerate to develop flavors, at least 1 hour.

Taste the vegetables and adjust with additional salt, if necessary. Sprinkle with the chopped parsley and fennel fronds, and serve cool or at room temperature.

Thyme-Scented Roasted Chickpeas

Makes about 2 cups

Recipe adapted from Patricia Wells’s The Provence Cookbook.

1 29-ounce can chickpeas, drained, rinsed, and dried

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

Salt and pepper

2 teaspoons ground cumin

1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme

Set the oven rack in the middle position and heat the oven to 450 degrees. In a medium bowl, toss the chickpeas, 2 teaspoons of the oil, 1½ teaspoons salt, pepper to taste, and the cumin to coat. Spread the chickpeas in a single layer on a baking sheet and roast until shrunken, browned, and crisp, about 40 minutes, stirring to redistribute once every 10 minutes.

Immediately return the hot chickpeas to the bowl, add the remaining oil and the thyme, and toss to distribute. Cool and serve (will keep in an airtight container for about 1 week).

Send comments or suggestions to Adam Ried at cooking@globe.com.

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KITCHEN AIDE

Loaf find

The right bread is one key to pan bagnat success. Because there’s a fine line between “bathed” and disintegrated, the bread has to be sturdy enough to stand up to the oil and juicy fillings. In Nice, the sandwiches I sampled were all made with relatively flat, round buns with healthy crusts. For this recipe, I tried various kinds of focaccia, which was usually too tender to hold up, ciabatta, which was sturdier but not quite right, and a bread baked locally by Iggy’s called francese, which was perfect. Square with rounded corners, almost like a small throw pillow, the bread has plenty of sturdy crust and not too much crumb. At about 6 or 7 inches square, the small francese makes a pan bagnat for 2, 3, or 4 people, depending on their appetites. Iggy’s breads are widely available around Boston – check Whole Foods and Shaw’s markets.