This here is a sangwich. Not your standard, grammatically correct “sandwich,” but a mouth wateringly delicious pile of ingredients that marinate together into one messy, flavorful sangwich. The sangwich was designed around these pan-fried eggplants. They are silky and smooth from the flavorful olive oil we fried them in, and they are tossed and marinated in a little sautéed garlic and a lot of chopped basil. They are fruity, salty and spicy, and they are a perfect match for a delicious hunk of hearty bread that can soak up that flavorful oil.
The day I went to the Farmers Market and began my annual eggplant overload, I also found some beautiful small green cucumbers. They are sweet and crunchy and they have yet to become seedy and watery like the larger, late-season cucumbers. We’ll slice them in rounds and toss them with parsley, olive oil, and red wine vinegar to cut through the other mellow and creamy flavors on our sangwich.
To boost our flavors one more notch, we’re going to scatter some anchovies into the mix. They’re salty, complex, and full of that umami flavor we all love and crave. But to be sure we’re not going too salty, we’re going to slice some creamy, medium-boiled eggs and burrow them into the sangwich. The yolks will mingle and dissolve as we take each bite, and they’ll soak up the spicy, salty and vinegary flavors of our eggplants, anchovies, and cucumber salad.
We’re going to need something to tie the whole package together—something to keep the bread moist and something to creep into every crack and crevice of this sangwich. Mayonnaise is a natural choice, but it needs a little gussying up before it’s sangwich-ready. We’ll toast some pine nuts and fold them in with some chopped basil and parsley. We’ll need to talk about our layering order, because the composition of the sangwich is just as important as the ingredients, themselves:
- Mayonnaise goes on both sides of the bread. I made the mistake of putting it on one side when I took these photos, but in the case of this sangwich, more is more. The pine nuts are also a new addition since the photos.
- Eggs and anchovies go on the bottom so they can mingle together while the mayonnaise holds them in place. Being on the bottom also puts them at the advantage of soaking up all of the oils and dressings from the layers above.
- Eggplants are next. They will hold together nicely from the oil, so don’t be afraid to pile them on generously. This is the star of our sangwich, afterall!
- Cucumbers go on the top layer so they can stay crunchy and contribute their sharp, vinegary tang to the ingredients layered below. By scooping out some of the soft middle of the bread, a nice well is formed to keep the cucumbers from sliding out of the sangwich.
I like to prepare this sangwich on an entire loaf of a hearty, crusty bread to sop up the juicy fillings. I’ll halve the loaf lengthwise, and hollow it out a bit before I begin layering. When my bread is on the taller side, I’ll sometimes slice it in thirds—a technique The Sporkful’s Dan Pashman refers to as [bread] trifurcation. I’ll scoop the top, and save the middle section—and the scooped pieces— for a recipe down the road. Then I’ll assemble the sangwich and let it sit and marinate before dividing it into portions.
I borrowed this trick from the French pain bagnat, meaning bathed or soaked bread. The pain bagnat—whose very purpose is to allow its ingredients to mingle and set— is typically made with fresh summer vegetables, hard boiled eggs, anchovies or tuna, and a light, vinegary dressing. Since the pan-fried eggplants taste better the longer they sit, I was inspired by this classic French recipe to let them steep with other distinct ingredients that—with a little time and patience—take on each other’s flavors. Though it’s messy and quirky, this creamy, crunchy, smooth and spicy sangwich is nothing short of pure, late-summer comfort—especially when you split it between 4, 3, or 2 very hungry eaters!
This sangwich is great for sharing and planning ahead. You can prepare the mayonnaise, the eggplants, the cucumber salad and the medium-boiled eggs ahead of time. The helpings are a bit of an approximation for one hefty sangwich, plus a fair amount of leftovers. If you’re like me and you enjoy a sangwich that has had a chance to marinate, you can assemble it the night before. Pack it for a summer picnic on the beach and wash the oil from your chin in that salty sea water—I promise, there’s nothing better!
1 medium pan-fried eggplant
1 large or 2 medium garlic cloves
1/2 cup loosely packed basil leaves
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 medium or 2 small cucumbers
2 tsp red wine vinegar
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1/3 cup loosely packed parsley leaves
salt & freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Herb & Pine Nut Mayonnaise:
1/3 cup full-fat mayonnaise
1/4 cup loosely packed basil leaves
1/4 cup loosely packed parsley leaves
1 1/2 tbsp raw pinenuts
Peel and slice the garlic into 1/8 inch-wide blades. Heat 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil in a small skillet over medium heat. When the oil begins to thin and shimmer a bit, toss in the garlic and allow it to sizzle—stirring constantly with a wooden spoon—until the garlic has reached a pale, ivory-gold color. This should only take a minute or so.
Scoop the garlic from the pan using a slotted spoon, and transfer it to a large bowl. You will now have a pan of garlic-scented olive oil for dipping or sauteing. Roughly chop the basil and add it to the bowl along with the pan-fried eggplants. Using tongs, toss the eggplants, the basil, and the garlic together until they are incorporated. Set aside or refrigerate overnight.
In a mixing bowl, whisk together the oil and vinegar. Once slightly incorporated, slice the cucumbers into 1/8 inch rounds, roughly chop the parsley, and add both to the mixing bowl. Fold the cucumbers, the parsley, the oil and vinegar together, and grind a bit of salt and black pepper into the mixture, to taste. Set aside or refrigerate overnight.
Herb & Pine Nut Mayonnaise:
In a small, dry skillet, toast the pine nuts over medium heat, taking care to stir and toss them frequently. When the pine nuts have reached a golden color (about 5-6 minutes), transfer them immediately to a small bowl and allow them to cool completely. Chop the basil and parsley, and add them to the bowl of cooled pine nuts. Fold the mayonnaise into the basil, parsley, and pinenuts, and mix until incorporated. Set aside or refrigerate overnight.
Final Sangwich Assembly
Slice the bread lengthwise in half (or into thirds), and scoop the soft crumb from the top lid of bread. Save the scooped pieces (and the middle third, if slicing into thirds) for a future recipe.
Smear the top and bottom slices of bread with a generous portion of the mayonnaise. Slice as many of the eggs as you’d like, and arrange them on the bottom piece of bread. Scatter the anchovies throughout the egg layer of the sangwich.
Using a fork, pile the eggplants onto the sangwich. Feel free to be generous with this layer.
Scoop the cucumber salad into the well of the top slice of bread. Using two hands, carefully flip the top half of the sangwich onto its lower half. It should be a bit like closing a book.
Cut the sangwich into portions and enjoy right away, or wrap the portions in foil and refrigerate overnight. You may wrap and refrigerate the sangwich whole, but I always find bread a bit hard to cut when it’s cold.