Wednesday, May 14, 2003

A sandwich might be the solution


They're not just white-bread fare anymore, they stack up as a way for good cooks to have fun and get creative

By The Cincinnati Enquirer
and Enquirer news services
[IMAGE]

Sandwiches, in case you haven't noticed, aren't what they used to be. Classier, more creative and much, much tastier than the meat-in-white-bread lunch box fodder of childhood, they've been reinvented and redefined.

Today, their breads are better. Their fillings are fabulous. And they're being served in tantalizing combinations that are spread with a whole new attitude.

The Cricket Lounge at the Cincinnatian Hotel, downtown, serves sauteed lamb loin on pita bread with eggplant, arugula, pine nuts and feta cheese for $14.50. On the other end of the scale, LaRosa's has just introduced a line of four ciabatta sandwiches - a variety of toppings on crunchy artisan-style bread with sundried tomato spread - for about $5.99. Judges gave LaRosa's ciabatta deli sandwich second place in the "entree" category of the Best of Taste of Cincinnati last week.

For about the same price, the Panera Bread chain offers grilled turkey panini (grilled Italian-style sandwiches) with spinach-artichoke spread, Asiago-Parmesan cheese, caramelized onions and tomato on basil pesto focaccia.

There's everything in between at today's restaurants. Sandwiches were the largest group among new menu items offered by the top 200 chains last year, so it's no wonder the trade journal Food Technology recently called sandwiches one of the 10 top trends.

But sophisticated sandwiches shouldn't be confined to restaurants. Made at home, they're perfect food for today's lifestyle challenges. Too busy to cook? Watching your budget? Eating healthier? Bored with the same six dinners every week? Sandwiches can be an easy, quick and endlessly variable solution.

If you're ready to shed your turkey-and-American past for a more contemporary style, there's no shortage of help and inspiration. There are new sandwich cookbooks by famous chefs, elaborate panini grills from high-end appliance makers, scores of tempting ready-made ingredients at bakeries, markets and grocery stores.

Making sandwiches great

• Start with great breads. Chefs agree that breads with substance, texture and the earthy flavors of grain are the real key to today's more substantial, sophisticated sandwiches. Skip typical supermarket loaves and choose rustic hearth-baked or artisan-style breads. Experiment with different textures, shapes and flavors, and slice them yourself to get the thickness you prefer. Experiment with olive-sourdough bread, sun-dried tomato and basil, or any kind of focaccia.

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• Add flavor by grilling the bread, and roast or grill at least some of the fillings, such as onions, peppers and other vegetables. Seasoning or marinating the meat - whether it's chicken, beef or seafood - adds complexity and more layers of flavor. Grill bread slices individually before assembling the sandwiches, or grill the whole thing in a contact grill or a specialized panini maker, sold at high-end appliance retailers. Restaurant chains all over the country are jumping on the panini bandwagon, industry studies show. Panera Bread, for example, introduced them two years ago and now, even Starbucks is reported to be experimenting with them.

• Use grilled or roasted meats instead of sliced cold cuts. Even leftovers from a weekend cookout or Sunday night supper are preferable to processed products. Think oven-roasted turkey breast, succulent slices of rosy grilled steak, pan-seared salmon filets, or even shredded, slowly braised beef pot roast. And if you love tomatoes on sandwiches, don't settle for tasteless winter ones - intensify their flavor by slowly roasting sliced or halved Romas in the oven. Add a few leaves of fresh basil or other herbs while you're at it.

• Get beyond mayonnaise and mustard. Shop the aisles of almost any supermarket and you'll spot prepared chutney, pesto and tapenade - extremely flavorful condiments that aren't usually used as sandwich spreads. In the refrigerator section, grab containers of hummus, bottles of salad dressing and tubs of spreadable cheeses. Check out prepared foods counters, too. La Brea Bakery chef, restaurateur and author Nancy Silverton of Los Angeles, in the new Nancy Silverton's Sandwich Book (Knopf; $24.95), says prepared items such as tapenade and roasted red peppers in jars can taste great and save time; just read the ingredients to know what you're buying.

• Rethink everything you assume about fillings. Both vegetarian and seafood sandwiches were strong new trends on restaurant menus last year, Food Technology magazine reports. Grilled eggplant, broccoli and asparagus are just a few of the vegetables showing up as sandwich ingredients; Silverton's book has recipes using sauteed bitter greens and even bean purees. Don't overlook fresh vegetables: Pea shoots, rings of sweet yellow or red peppers, or long, thin slabs of crisp cucumber can add crunch, moisture and coolness to sandwiches. Try fruit - mango or pineapple salsas are cool, spicy and refreshing in knife-and-fork sandwiches. And don't forget grilled salmon, smoked salmon, seared tuna, crab cakes or seafood salads as options to heavier protein sources such as beef, pork and chicken.

Sandwiches breads

Baguette: French-style bread formed into long, narrow loaf, usually with a crisp, brown crust and light, chewy interior.

Brioche (BREE-ohsh): A light, French-style bread rich with butter and eggs. Usually, brioche is toasted for sandwiches.

Ciabatta (ch'yah-BAH-tah): An Italian-style bread with light, thin crust. Originally, the loaf resembled a small slipper, which translates as "ciabatta."

Focaccia (foh-KAH-ch'yah) : A dimpled yeast bread, similar to pizza crust, but thicker.

Lavash (LAH-vohsh): A round thin, crisp bread also known as Armenian cracker bread. Lavash also comes in a soft version.

Pita: Also called "pocket bread," pita is a Middle Eastern-style flat bread made with white or whole-wheat flour.

Sandwich tales

Nancy Silverton's Sandwich Book: The Best Sandwiches Ever - From Thursday Nights at Campanile (Knopf: $24.95).

Panini, Bruschetta, Crostini: Sandwiches, Italian Style (Morrow; $18.95) by Viana La Place.

Wrap It Up: 100 Fresh, Bold, and Bright Sandwiches With a Twist (Three Rivers; $14.95) by Amy Cotler.

John Montagu (1718-1792), the Fourth Earl of Sandwich, is credited with creation of the sandwich. Supposedly, Montagu was too busy gambling to stop and eat dinner, so he snacked on meat between two slices of toast.

Some historians doubt this story and believe Montagu ate salted beef sandwiches (his favorite) to sustain himself while working long hours at his desk. Which is exactly how so many busy Americans eat sandwiches today.

Sandwich history

John Montagu (1718-1792), the Fourth Earl of Sandwich, is credited with creation of the sandwich. Supposedly, Montagu was too busy gambling to stop and eat dinner, so he snacked on meat between two slices of toast.

Some historians doubt this story and believe Montagu ate salted beef sandwiches (his favorite) to sustain himself while working long hours at his desk. Which is exactly how so many busy Americans eat sandwiches today.



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