Home improvement. DIY. Bricolage. The very words strike fear into my heart. My toolkit consists of a hammer that I found in the closet of a former apartment and a screwdriver that I bought at CVS. My self-assembled Ikea furniture is starting to self-disassemble.
But if there’s one thing I’ve learned since buying an apartment, it’s that handyman work and home ownership go together like procrastination and Twitter. Unfortunately, though my husband can navigate his way mapless through any new city, charm the most sourpuss of great aunts, and bring your pub quiz team to victory with his profound knowledge of sports trivia — just a few of his many talents — he shares my dislike of DIY. Our home together is crumbling to bits — well-read, well-fed, jazz-noted bits, but bits nonetheless.
Luckily, we have friends. Friends who own drills and levels and toolboxes in the shape of tiny metal suitcases. How could I convince these friends to spend a “fun” evening with us building furniture and hanging shelves?
I bribed them. With beer, and snacks, and rosé wine (for the spouses), and a sandwich. A Big Sandwich.
The Big Sandwich is not just a sandwich. Nor is it merely big. Rather, it’s an elaborate creation, a triumph of sandwichery. There are meats — I used mortadella, cooked ham, and spicy salami, but feel free to go crazy at the deli counter — you could even skip the meat and add tuna, or anchovies. There are cheeses — gouda, maybe Emmenthal? Perhaps a spot of cheddar? There are chopped black olives and lettuce and tomato. There is bread that has been brushed with vinaigrette. But be careful — the right kind of bread is important — it must be mushy enough to absorb flavors, yet sturdy enough to withstand the delectable juices that soak into it. I couldn’t find the perfect Big Loaf, so I used two different breads: ciabatta rolls that had the perfect texture, though they weren’t really the perfect size, and a country round. That’s why my Big Sandwich is actually a collection of several sandwiches.
The true magic of the Big Sandwich actually occurs after it has been assembled, during its overnight compression in the fridge. I weighted mine with a 5-kilo pail of sauerkraut (which is up for grabs, if you live in Paris — free sauerkraut!). The overnight rest smooshes everything together, melding the flavors.
The result is a compact, salty wedge of meats and cheeses, the perfect reward after hours of toil spent assembling beds, and hanging shelves, and being yelled at by your bossypants hostess. (“Higher! Higher! No, now lower. Lower. Lower. Too low. Higher. Higher!”) Dear friends, I am very grateful.
I adapted this from a Julia Child recipe for pan bagnat, a tuna sandwich from Nice. But you could add different meats, or skip the meat, or different vegetables (bell peppers would be nice). Let your imagination run wild!
1 ciabatta loaf (preferably large and round)
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 teaspoon mustard
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
3 tablespoons olive oil
5-6 leaves red lettuce
1/2 lb (250 grams) sliced cheese
3/4 cup (100 grams) cured black olives, pitted and chopped
3/4 lb (375 grams) sliced deli meats
1 large tomato, thinly sliced
Slice the bread horizontally, into two layers. Hollow out the halves of bread by pinching bits of crumb from the interior. Prepare a vinaigrette by combining the garlic, mustard, vinegar and olive oil (I use a jar and shake vigorously). Using a spoon, spread half the vinaigrette on each side of the bread.
Arrange the sandwich ingredients in layers on the bottom half of bread. First the lettuce leaves, then the sliced cheese. Scatter the olives. Add a layer of tomatoes. Finally, arrange the slices meats as the top layer. Drizzle with the remaining vinaigrette (if you have any — I usually don’t) and top with the cap of bread.
Swaddle the sandwich in several layers of plastic wrap and place in the fridge on a baking sheet. Place another tray or cutting board on top and weight with heavy items. Leave overnight to press and flatten the sandwich. Before eating, allow the sandwich to come to room temperature.