A French open-faced sandwich, called a tartine, possesses a certain refinement. Whether it’s a length of crisp-chewy baguette spread with soft salted butter and adorned with crisp dark chocolate shavings (a common “goûter,” or afternoon snack) or a thick slice of levain, lightly toasted, generously smeared with creamy Roquefort, and embellished with violet wedges of fig, a thoughtfully designed tartine displays a range of flavors and textures and caters to the eyes as well as the palate. My favorite versions require a knife and fork, not because their striking looks call for the formality of silverware but because they’re substantial enough to be a light lunch or brunch.
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Inspired by: Pistou (Herb Sauce)
- BASE A little water mixed into salty, tangy chèvre makes a lush bed for the colorful topping.
- TOPPING Microwave-steamed beets are dressed in white wine vinegar while they’re still hot; orange pieces are tossed in a peppery arugula dressing inspired by pistou, a Provençal sauce that’s normally made with basil. A scattering of toasted hazelnuts offers delicate sweetness and crunch.
I think of main-course tartines as triple-decker affairs: The base is a generous slice of bread that’s often toasted. The middle is a luscious, savory spread. Finally, you have the crowning layer: a colorful, head-turning, tasty topping. To create each sandwich, I looked to classic French recipes for inspiration and worked from the top down, starting with two complementary ingredients (e.g., mild fresh tuna and punchy preserved lemon; earthy beets and bright orange; crisp, grassy asparagus and silky, salty prosciutto). I cut, tore, or shaved the elements into attractive shapes and seasoned them so that they tasted great. The beet-orange combo, for example, benefitted from a dressing of peppery arugula, fruity olive oil, mustard, and white wine vinegar—my riff on France’s vibrant herb sauce called pistou.
Inspired by: Gribiche (Hard-Boiled Egg Sauce)
- BASE A creamy-tangy update of the classic egg sauce called gribiche contains chopped jammy eggs and touches of mustard, parsley, white wine vinegar, and shallot.
- TOPPING Ruby pepper-crusted tuna is drizzled with a glimmering mix of punchy preserved lemon, olive oil, lemon juice, and parsley.
Next, the spreads. They had to be loose enough to slather but not so runny that they oozed over the edges of the bread. A take on gribiche, a distant relative of mayonnaise made with hard-cooked eggs, was ideal for the tuna tartine. I tweaked its composition, soft-boiling the eggs before chopping them and stirring in olive oil, lemon juice, and mustard. A quickie duxelles (sautéed minced mushrooms) served as a hearty base for the asparagus and prosciutto duo, whereas chèvre thinned with water made a creamy, snow-white foundation for the beets and orange.
For the bread, a top-quality baguette, with a crisp crust and chewy crumb, could simply be divided into lengths and halved lengthwise, whereas levain or pain de mie were best toasted to develop a craggy crust and a warm, soft interior.
Inspired by: Duxelles (Sautéed Minced Mushrooms)
- BASE Conventional duxelles call for sautéing the mushrooms for at least 30 minutes before deglazing with fortified wine and enriching with butter. Here, the earthy mushrooms collapse in just 10 minutes of simmering in Madeira; then, they are briefly sautéed with butter, shallot, and fresh thyme.
- TOPPING A tangle of savory prosciutto strips and lemony asparagus ribbons flaunts soft pink and green hues.
Lastly, assembly. In addition to creating stylish looks befitting a Parisian café, I ensured that every bite would be an amalgamation of all the elements.
After that, it was just a matter of pouring wine, sitting back, and enjoying the “ooh la las.”