Thursday, June 16, 2011
After my first week at my new job, I felt so mentally exhausted that I almost burst into tears at the grocery store when my friendly neighborhood cheesemonger asked me how I was doing. It was so embarrassing, getting teary eyed next to the olive bar. "You can do it," he said. "I believe in you."
Fortified by his unwavering confidence in me, I continued my shopping. There was lunch to be made for friends the next day and anyway, if the cheese guy thinks I can handle it, I probably should believe in myself, right?
Leaning into a knife and chopping a big mess of vegetables always helps me forget my troubles. That night I made pan bagnat, a rustic Nicoise-style tuna sandwich on a baguette. I blanched skinny haricot verts, chopped up a bell pepper, some olives, marinated artichoke hearts, and a handful of tiny tomatoes. To this mix, I added a handful of chopped parsley and a little vinaigrette. I wrapped up the long sandwich and let it sit in the refrigerator overnight so the flavors of the salad could meld together and soak into the baguette. Hence the name, which means "bathed bread."
Our friends arrived with their adorably chubby baby girl in tow, and we all sat around looking at her, admiring her tiny feet and soft skin. A newborn tends to suck the air out of the room. How did we all start out that small? But eventually she dozed off and we ate the sandwiches and everyone said how good they were and had seconds and thirds.
Something clicked for me as I watched my friend hold her daughter. Even though she has only been a mother for a few months, she knows how to soothe her baby, when to feed her, how to coax a laugh or smile. And how to wriggle on a pair of pants when baby is not having it. Some of that is instinctual, but a lot of it is just the passage of time. My friend said that in the beginning she felt like every day was going to be a struggle, an unending stretch of difficulties. There's so much you don't know when you become a parent no matter how prepared you are. No aspect of your life is the same. But things change, and now she is navigating new motherhood so gracefully.
Everything new seems daunting at first--having a baby, starting a new job, cooking a recipe for the first time. With practice and time, it always gets easier. Especially cooking.
Adapted from Food 52. If you have leftover tuna, it's great eaten on its own or tossed with salad greens.
(Serves 4 to 6 people)
1 loaf crusty French baguette
1 clove garlic, cut in half
A handful basil leaves
2 6 oz. cans of tuna (preferably packed in olive oil)
3/4 cup Nicoise or Kalamata olives, sliced
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 large shallot, thinly sliced
1/2 cup Italian flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
1 cup marinated artichoke hearts, drained and chopped
1/2 cup cherry tomatoes, diced
1/2 cup blanched haricot verts (or regular green beans), blanched, sliced into thirds
1 lemon, juiced
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Slice the loaf of bread in half lengthwise. Remove some of the insides of the bottom half to create space for the filling. Brush both halves with a little extra virgin olive oil. Rub each half with the garlic. Line the hollowed-out half with the basil leaves.
In a mixing bowl, combine the tuna, olives, red bell pepper, onion, parsley, artichoke hearts, tomatoes, and green beans. In a measuring cup or small bowl, whisk the lemon juice into the olive oil until it is emulsified/combined. Pour the vinaigrette into the tuna mixture and stir to combine. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Spoon tuna mixture into the baguette on top of the basil leaves. Wrap the sandwich well in plastic. Crush it down by placing a heavy cast iron skillet on top and refrigerate, preferably with the weight, overnight. In the morning, cut the sandwich in half, or smaller pieces.