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Pan Bagnat

About six months ago, the Joy of Cooking received an invitation from the St. Louis chapter of Les Dames d'Escoffier International. Usually, when people email us, they have no idea that there are only five people who actively represent the Joy of Cooking, and that four of those five are family. As a result, we receive plenty of emails from people who don't know exactly who they're talking to. In fact, most of them probably think they're emailing a secretary. Just so you know, for future reference, when you email us, you're emailing our editor and dear friend, Maggie. And often, Maggie forwards those emails directly to us.

In any case, a representative of Les Dames wanted someone to speak on behalf of the Joy of Cooking at their annual conference, which was held this year in St. Louis, Missouri, the nearly lifelong home of Irma Rombauer. And when a dame asks you to go somewhere, you go.

These are incredible ladies. Talented, opinionated, vocal, and passionate. And John, my dear, sweet husband of two weeks, was a teensy bit intimidated at the thought of speaking intelligently and intelligibly in front of them. No small wonder. However, if there's one thing we've gotten pretty good at over the past two years, it's talking about JOY. In fact, it's hard not to do. When you work for America's most popular, multi-generational, all-purpose cookbook, there's a lot to be said and a lot to be proud of. And once someone finds out that you work for JOY, they usually have lots of questions.

Needless to say, John's speech went over very well (you can read the transcript here), and it was well-received. Everyone in the audience was a JOY fan, and we had the privilege of meeting some truly wonderful people, among them chefs, business owners, marketing consultants, and supermarket mavens. We had a total blast.

The days before the speech, however, were not quite so nice. We were both on edge--nervous stomachs, headaches, sleepless nights, and a general feeling of being on the brink of something awful. It reminded me not so fondly of my piano recital days, when, no matter how well I knew the piece, I always seemed to fumble onstage.

Luckily for us both, I wasn't so disoriented that I forgot to pack a good lunch for the drive to St. Louis. After all, road food on a nervous stomach is just bad form.

It sounds odd to say that the end of summer has arrived, because, as we all know, summer has been over for a few weeks now. However, in the South, summer produce just refuses to quit, and we're only now reaching the tail-end of tomato, pepper, and eggplant season, those lovely nightshades necessary for summer's best dishes.

Last week's farmer's market haul included all three, and so I needed to find a way to use them in a road-worthy incarnation. I remembered pan bagnat in the nick of time. Pan bagnat literally means "bathed bread." It's a Provençal tuna sandwich that, I have found, improves greatly over time. After all, you want the bread to soak up the dressing.

Pan bagnat does not typically contain red peppers and eggplant, but in my book those two ingredients seemed perfectly logical. The eggplant and peppers are roasted ahead of time, rendering them sweet and tender, and the tuna is combined with chopped olives (I used castelvetrano because that's what we had, but Niçoise would probably be more traditional) and a simple citrusy dressing. This sandwich is usually composed on a hearty round roll that can be hollowed out to make room for the ingredients, but all I had      was one of the large boules that I make once a week. Feel free to make this sandwich on whatever type of bread you like, but remember that it needs to be hearty and chewy enough to stand up to the fillings. Over time, soft bread will simply disintegrate.

Other articles you might enjoy: Ratatouille With Sausage and Corn, Miso-Glazed Eggplant, Eggplant Soup With Roasted Cherry Tomatoes and Chive Oil

Pan Bagnat With Roasted Eggplant and Red Pepper
Makes about 3 to 4 sandwiches

Preheat the oven to 400˚F. Slice into 1/4-inch slabs:
     1 small eggplant (no need to peel it)
Flatten with the palm of your hand:
     1 medium red bell pepper, cut in half and seeded
Brush both the eggplant slices and red pepper with a little olive oil. Place them on a baking sheet and roast until tender, about 15 minutes or so (I found that the eggplant was finished before the pepper--you want the skin on the pepper to wrinkle and pucker for easy removal).
While the vegetables roast, combine:
     One 12-ounce can albacore tuna
     1/4 cup coarsely chopped olives
     1/4 cup chopped Italian parsley
     3 tablespoons olive oil
     Juice of one lemon
     Salt and pepper to taste

Once the peppers are cool enough to handle, remove the skin.
Toast the bread you'll be using, and rub a garlic clove over the toasted surfaces of the bread. Cover one of the slices of bread with:
     Fresh basil leaves
Pile some of the tuna mixture on top of the basil. Top with the roasted eggplant, bell pepper, and:
     Sliced tomato
     Cracked black pepper

Place the other slice of bread on top, and wrap the sandwiches tightly in plastic wrap. Allow the sandwiches to sit, refrigerated, for at least one hour but preferably two to five.

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