My first memories of sandwiches are of warm, crisp, buttery brown triangles of white or whole-wheat bread filled with delectable melted yellow cheese. In the Kostyra household, these were served with bowls of steaming tomato soup for lunch, and we all loved that meal.
At some point, tomatoes were added to the filling, and I savored the mixture of sharp cheddar and tart slabs of homegrown Big Boy tomatoes between slices of buttery toast. The sandwich had to be cooked in a big iron skillet, the bread crisped to an even golden brown and the cheese completely melted. Otherwise, it just wasn't quite right.
I can't quite recall when I started eating the tuna fish salad sandwiches of which I became inordinately fond, nor when I first had bacon, lettuce and tomato (my current favorite), nor when I visited Houston Street in New York City with my dad and tasted a really good bagel for the first time. It was filled with the best cream cheese and thin, hand-sliced, tender smoked salmon. But those were my early forays into the world of sandwiches.
As Mother taught me, it was always about the ingredients, not complexity; freshness and contrasts, not quantity. But it was also about generosity.
At Skylands, my house on Mount Desert Island, Maine, sandwiches are served at least once each summer weekend. Why? They are easy, they are loved, they are generous and everyone wants one of the delicious concoctions we come up with in the kitchen. Sandwiches made from locally caught peekytoe crab are delicate, so we prefer to use thin brioche toast with just crab, soft lettuce, a bit of creme fraiche and perhaps some avocado.
My daughter Alexis's egg-salad sandwiches are also favored by my friends. Thinly sliced bread enhances the bright-yellow salad made crunchy with celery and radicchio. We always try to use organic eggs.
Increasingly, local vendors and grocers are stocking high-quality, imported cold cuts and cheeses. But I often bring a great assortment myself from a place such as Murray's cheese store, in New York's Greenwich Village, if I plan to serve a panini lunch. The more variety, the better. A good panini iron is ideal, but two cast-iron pans one for cooking, one for pressing also work well.
I could go on and on. The more I think about sandwiches, the hungrier I become. Right now, I am going to the freezer for a hunk of pain de seigle for a grilled cheddar and tomato sandwich. What are you craving?More sandwich recipes are available at marthastewart.com/martha-sandwiches.
Serves 10 to 12
2 loaves ciabatta, halved horizontally and quartered crosswise
1 loaf whole-grain bread, cut into slices 1/2 inch thick
1/2 pound each thinly sliced soppressata, prosciutto, bresaola and coppa
1/2 pound each thinly sliced smoked mozzarella, fresh mozzarella, provolone, fontina and ricotta cheeses
2 tomatoes, thinly sliced
1 head radicchio, leaves separated
1 bunch fresh basil
1 jar (3 ounces) best-quality anchovies
1 bunch fresh oregano
Lemon wedges, for squeezing
Preheat oven to 200 F. Set out ingredients for guests to build panini. Heat a panini press. Brush each sandwich with oil and place in press. Grill according to manufacturer's instructions.Alternatively, heat a skillet over medium-low heat. Place a sandwich in skillet, and top with a smaller heavy skillet. Cook, flipping once, until bread is golden brown and cheese melts, 3 minutes to 4 minutes per side. Transfer to oven to keep warm. Repeat.
Makes 1 cup
3 cups packed fresh basil, torn into pieces
1/4 cup pine nuts
2 garlic cloves
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
Puree basil, nuts, garlic and 1/2 teaspoon salt in a food processor. With machine running, slowly add oil, and process until smooth. Stir in cheese. Season with salt and pepper. Cover, and refrigerate up to 1 day.
Makes 1 1/4 cups
2 cups black olives, such as Kalamata, pitted
4 anchovy fillets
1/2 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 garlic clove
Pulse olives, anchovies, parsley and garlic in a food processor until coarsely chopped. Stir in oil. Cover, and refrigerate up to 3 days.
CRAB SALAD SANDWICH
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
3/4 teaspoon coarse salt
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon creme fraiche
2 tablespoons finely chopped shallot
1 tablespoon minced chives
Freshly ground peppercorns, preferably pink
8 ounces lump crabmeat
4 leaves red-leaf lettuce
1 avocado, thinly sliced
Mix lemon juice, salt, creme fraiche, shallot and chives. Season with pepper. Fold in crab. Cover, and refrigerate for 30 minutes. Divide lettuce, avocado and crab among 4 bread slices. Sandwich with remaining slices.
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