Pan bagna is a beloved sandwich in Provence. The warm breezes of the Côte d'Azur, the delicate sand, the crispy baguettes — a gentle rosé and a pan bagna are the makings of a magical picnic. I won’t be strolling at Cannes anytime soon, but here are four reasons why pan bagna is at the top of my always-ready-for-a-picnic list.
1. It has to be made ahead.
This sandwich is supposed to get soft and tender in the middle from the intertwining juices of the ingredients, which means you need time for the sandwich to develop its characteristic texture and for the flavors to come together. Some folks even place a weight on top to make the magic happen faster, but I love doing the easiest thing of all: leaving it in the fridge and letting the ingredients do their thing. This recipe suggests leaving it three to four hours, but I have made these sandwiches a full day in advance with great results. I simply turn the refrigerated sandwich over every six hours or so. Talk about easy.
2. It has no mayo.
Sorry to get icky, but picnics are not fun if you get sick. It can happen easily from mayo that’s been sitting out, unrefrigerated. This sandwich solves that problem lickety-split by using flavor-packed olive oil, lemon juice, and vinegar. It’s been well-chilled already, so that means you can pack it in your basket and if it sits until it gets to room temperature, it’s going to be delicious and totally fine.
3. It’s versatile and ready for your riff.
There are a zillion variations possible. Pan bagna is based on the Provençal salad Niçoise, a fancy seaside composed salad, which traditionally showcases oil-packed tuna, haricot vert, hard-boiled eggs, Niçoise olives, anchovies, and tomatoes. There are many versions that include capers, peppers, seared fresh tuna or sardines, artichoke hearts, and greens. You can use any local, summery vegetables to customize the ingredients and flavors.
4. Yes, it uses anchovies, but you can disguise them and still reap their power.
Fear not the anchovy, for it is your friend in the kitchen. Did you get turned off from a slice of pizza or a Caesar salad that had way too much anchovy in a single bite? I hear you. But let me defend the anchovy for a moment and show you a trick: Anchovies are in foods you probably like, from Worcestershire sauce to Asian fish sauces. These little flavor powerhouses cross cuisines and add the elusive umami. Still fearful? Try just a teeny-weeny teaspoon — or even a half of a teaspoon — of Italian anchovy paste mixed into the pungent lemon juice and punchy onions in this recipe and let them conjoin for a few moments. You don’t need much to give the tuna a salty, briny backbone.