Start out with a base of carbohydrate -- loosely defined as bread, but more realistically incorporating anything from cracker to croissant to tortilla.
Then the garden yields dozens of possibilities. From vine-ripened tomatoes, cucumbers and golden bell peppers to tender sheets of lettuce, fragrant herbs and exotic eggplant, sandwiches from your garden are a healthy and inspirational answer to the question, "What's for dinner?"
The creations first take hold on my imaginary palate, where the flavors, textures and colors of the harvest unite. Then, it's merely a matter of fine-tuning the process back in the kitchen, adding appropriate condiments, cheeses or whatever it takes to round out the offering.
This is what makes the sandwich the perfect meal. It's adaptability, spontaneity and, in many cases, portability. And I've never underestimated the respectability factor of the sandwich either. That is, the freedom to legally eat with your fingers and not get sent to your room!
Of course, there are some basic guidelines that encourage successful pairings:
•Great sandwiches begin with excellent bread, such as nutty whole grain, rich challah or brioche, flakey croissants, crusty French or dark, dense rye. And there are so many talented bread makers in our own community these days, that finding these great breads shouldn't be a challenge.
Appropriate pairings are essential. Bold-flavored and juicy fillings stand up to bold, coarse-grained and crusty breads and condiments. Alternatively, delicate ingredients are more appreciated on the softer, more refined breads.
Keep it manageable. If opting for focaccia bread, brioche or any type of specialty bun, it should never be so thick, or the crust so hard as to render the sandwich unconquerable.
A light toasting of the bread can often add a perfect-yet-subtle depth of flavor, transforming a good sandwich into a truly memorable one. Toasting also seems to forestall sogginess.
If preparing sandwiches for a picnic, "wet" fillings should be spooned into a thermos and assembled just before serving.
Great breads aren't cheap. So after building your sandwiches, freeze the leftovers, or turn them into croutons, crostini or bruschetta to serve with soup, salads, and appetizers.
The trick is to serve this first sandwich while the cheese is still hot and bubbly, but the tomatoes underneath are still cool and juicy and slightly firm. It's a wonderful contrast in textures and flavors.
Garden tomato and cheese broil
4 tablespoons mayonnaise (or the sesame and poppy seed mayonnaise; recipe below)
1 tablespoon shredded Parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon finely minced fresh basil
1/2 teaspoon of finely chopped fresh oregano
4 slices bread, lightly toasted
4 local, vine-ripened tomatoes, thickly sliced
Olive oil (optional)
Balsamic vinegar (optional)
Salt and freshly-ground black pepper
4 thinly sliced medium-soft cheese (such as havarti or provolone)
Whisk together the mayonnaise with the Parmesan cheese, fresh basil and fresh oregano; set aside (refrigerate if made more than 30 minutes in advance).
When ready to serve, preheat oven to broil. While the oven is heating up, spread a portion of the mayonnaise on one side of each slice of bread. Arrange tomato slices on top of the mayonnaise mixture, being generous with each sandwich.
If desired, drizzle a few drops of the olive oil and the balsamic vinegar on top of each layering of tomatoes. Sprinkle each layering with a bit of salt and pepper, then place one thin layer of the cheese on top.
Place the sandwiches in the preheated broiler and broil JUST until the cheese has begun to melt and become bubbly. Remove from oven and serve immediately while the cheese is very hot and the tomato slices are still firm and cool.
Makes 4 sandwiches.
Just a tomato sandwich
2 slices of bread, lightly toasted
Mayonnaise or sesame and poppy seed mayonnaise (recipe follows)
1 really vine-ripened backyard tomato, thickly sliced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Slather both pieces of bread with enough mayonnaise (or sesame and poppy seed mayonnaise) to make an extremely goopy sandwich. Layer on three or more slices of the tomato. Season the tomato with salt and pepper.
Put the sandwich together and enjoy!
Naturally, variations abound -- which is where bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwiches come from, of course. Or you could layer on some thin slices of a yellow onion, and/or good quality smoked ham or turkey.
Makes 1 sandwich.
Sesame and poppy seed mayonnaise
4 tablespoons red or white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon sugar
2 tablespoons lightly toasted sesame seeds (see note)
1 tablespoon poppy seeds
1 tablespoon coarsely chopped yellow onion
1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/4 teaspoon paprika
1/2 cup good quality mayonnaise
Salt to taste
Place the vinegar, sugar, sesame seeds, poppy seeds, onion, Worcestershire and paprika in a blender jar. Blend until most of the sesame seeds are ground (stop the motor several times and scrape down the sides of the container). With a rubber spatula, scrape the contents into a small bowl; whisk in the mayonnaise, then adjust flavor, adding salt if necessary.
Note on toasted sesame seeds: To toast sesame seeds, heat a small non-stick skillet over medium heat. Add the seeds and cook them, shaking the pan occasionally to keep the seeds browning evenly, until they are beginning to turn a light golden brown and become very fragrant. Scrape them out onto a dish to cool. Cool completely before using in the mayonnaise.
Makes about 3/4 cup.
Grilled eggplant and arugula sandwich
1/2 cup olive oil
2 teaspoons minced garlic
1 teaspoon herbes de Provence
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 large Japanese eggplant, trimmed and thinly sliced lengthwise
2 thick slices rustic country bread
2 deli-cut slices of provlone cheese
Thinly sliced onion
Handful of young arugula leaves
Preheat the broiler. Whisk together olive oil, garlic, herbs, salt and pepper. Brush all over the eggplant slices and bread and arrange on baking sheet.
Grill eggplant and bread until beautifully browned on both sides. As soon as the bread is removed from the oven, place the cheese on one side of one piece.
To compose the sandwich, layer the eggplant slices on top of the cheese. Top with a few onion slices, some of the arugula leaves and the second slice of bread (spread with a bit of mayonnaise, if desired). Slice and serve.
Makes 1 sandwich.
Jan Roberts-Dominguez is a Corvallis, Ore., food writer, artist and author; firstname.lastname@example.org or www.janrd.com.
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