Pan Bagnat -The French picnic sandwich that’s perfect for hot weather entertaining

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Sandwiches, the original fast food, are easy, packable, and a summer staple, but are best when freshly made. After a few hours, bread goes soggy, cheese dissolves into tomato, and lettuce turns squishy. All these things that make most sandwiches unappetizing, are exactly what makes pan bagnat delicious and the perfect take-along meal.

The Pan Bagnat (pronounced paⁿ baɲa) originates in the South of France where the ingredients tend to duplicate a salad Niçoise and usually include tuna, anchovies, and eggs. Translated literally as “wet bread,” this stuffed, pressed, sandwich takes the best of the season’s produce and squashes it into a feast you can easily hold in one hand.

This is an impressive, easy meal that is prepared well in advance of serving. The longer it sits, the better it gets. Over time (up to 24 hours), the flavors meld together and the vegetable juices soak into the bread. 

Why it’s great:

1. People love it! It makes a stunning centerpiece for brunch, lunch, or dinner.

2. It’s not cooked, it’s assembled: You don’t want to heat up your kitchen with the stove or the oven when it’s costing so much to keep it cool in the first place.

3. The time-consuming ingredients, like tapenade, pesto, and roasted red peppers, can be purchased pre-made.

4. It is the perfect cooler food. Wrap it up and throw it in with the beer! There’s all the food groups and none of the fuss!

6. It’s an ideal showcase for the summer’s best produce and can easily be made vegetarian or vegan.

The ingredients:

The bread should be dense with a good crust. The better the bread, the better the sandwich. When pressed, the crumb becomes dense concentrating subtle yeasty flavors. It is the vital sponge that soaks all the precious juices from the marinating vegetables. Traditionally, a boule, large round loaf, is used but I prefer a chewy ciabbata or a crusty baguette. You can also use individual ciabbatas.

The protein can be anything you like. Oil-packed tuna, sliced cheese, hard-boiled eggs, cured meats like prosciutto or salami, grilled chicken, or beans.

I’ve experimented with lots of vegetables. Though I have my favorites, anything you would put in a salad, you can put in this sandwich. Peppers, zucchini, fennel, cucumber, scallions, even string beans or peas all work well.

Seasonings should be strong. Add briny olives and fragrant pesto. Toss some vegetables, especially cucumbers and zucchini, in a garlicky vinaigrette. Don’t overdo the liquid, you want the bread to be moist, not soggy.

The most important ingredient is TIME! Don’t rush this! If it can’t sit for at least four-six hours, you won’t get the benefits of the flavors permeating the entire sandwich. Ideally, let it rest overnight in the fridge.

Basic recipe for my favorite!

I’m not so big on measuring. Use what you think you need. There are lots of more detailed recipes available online.

Ciabbata sliced length wise

Olive oil

minced garlic

S & P

Red wine or sherry vinegar

Roasted red peppers from a jar

Red onions, thinly sliced

Zucchini, use a vegetable peeler to get ribbon slices

Tomatoes, sliced to about 1/4 inch



Fresh Mozzarella, sliced about 1/4 inch

Proscuitto - use lots of it!


  1. Lay the bottom of the sliced baguette on a piece of cling wrap large enough to wrap the entire loaf.
  2. Spread a generous amount of tapenade on the bottom of the bread, pesto on the top half.
  3. Layer the arugula, roasted red pepper, cheese, proscuitto, tomatoes, onions
  4. Combine a few tablespoons each of olive oil and vinegar, add the garlic, S & P to taste. Toss with the zucchini. Drain & layer.
  5. Replace top half of bread, wrap tightly in plastic wrap, Press down and wrap again in plastic, then in foil.
  6. The classic recipe calls for a small child to sit on the sandwich. In lieu of a small child, place a cutting board on top of the wrapped sandwich and weigh down with heavy books in your fridge. Every few hours flip the sandwich.
  7. Unwrap and slice with a sharp or serrated bread knife & ENJOY
Deborah Norkin