Sunday, May 3, 2009

Sandwich Evolution

My dad made my lunch for me every day for twelve years of school. He did a lot of other things for me too, far too numerous to list, but the lunch making was persistent. Here is what was in my lunch: a ham sandwich with iceberg lettuce or peanut butter and jelly on Thursdays (the day we didn't eat meat), a baggie of chips, some kind of fruit, pineapple juice, and a Nutty Bar. The ham was always Polish ham from the deli, picked up on Saturday mornings, wrapped in waxy paper and stuffed in a plastic bag. Later, there may have been some honey roasted or smoked ham, but I always preferred that somewhat watery, bland Polish ham with mayo gluing the lettuce in place, the sandwich cut diagonally across into triangles.
I rarely take sandwiches for lunch now. I usually have interesting dinner leftovers I'd rather eat, I never buy loaves of bread because I can't finish them fast enough, and frankly twelve years of the same lunch was enough. But if I do decide to take a sandwich for lunch it is (surprise surprise) far more complex than those ham sandwiches I grew up with. That's because sandwiches have evolved. They aren't just ham and cheese or PB&J. They have veggies or even fruit, they come in wraps (though I'm opposed to the use of tortillas for cold foods), they are toasted or grilled into paninis. And the bread is not just Wonder white bread or soft wheat. Whole grain, French baguette, sourdough, ciabatta, or specialty bread with herbs or sundried tomatoes is common.
I had a memorable sandwich in Sonoma a couple of years ago, and recreated it for lunch one day. The key ingredient was a black mission fig jam that was layered with salami, brie, and sliced pears, and I bought the jam then and there and tried to sneak it onto the airplane without checking my bag. All for the love of a sandwich.
Another favorite sandwich is portabella and goat cheese, with a crusty bread soaking up the juices from thick sliced portabellas sauteed in garlic and olive oil and salt and pepper. Or pesto with rounds of fresh buffalo mozarella and tomatoes on asiago cheese bread. Grilled chicken with avocado and sprouts. Steak and caramelized onions. Hot turkey with cranberry jam. Suddenly a sandwich sounds perfect for dinner and for lunch leftovers.
So that's what I'm having for lunch tomorrow - a sandwich. It's a sandwich inspired by a pasta salad I made recently with chunks of monterey jack cheese, salami, and pepperoncini. Use your favorite kind of bread - I like those Take 'n Bake baguettes which allow me to freeze them until I need them or even cut them and bake only half the baguette at a time. Sprinkle a little olive oil on the bread. Feel free to use some of the good stuff. Sprinkle some oregano on there too. Layer on slices of thin cut Genoa salami, pepper jack cheese, and pickled pepperoncini or any other pickled peppers (there are quite a few varieties in the pickle aisle). Wrap it up, tuck it into a lunch bag with some fruit, and oh, go ahead and sneak some cookies in there too. Just like when you were a kid.

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