I am the self-proclaimed “Queen of Sandwiches. Growing up in Philadelphia, which is the home of the “hoagie” and the Philly cheesesteak, I ate sandwiches for breakfast, lunch and dinner. What made these sandwiches so tasty, was the incredible Italian bread that shops all over the Philadelphia area served. Had the bread not been so amazing, these classic sandwiches may have never become the icons they are today. I know I’ve said this before, but I will say it again…the key to a successful sandwich is good bread. It doesn’t matter how good the ingredients of the sandwich are without top quality bread.
These days, I’m loving pita sandwiches. I like to cut these pocket breads open and spread them with a little aioli, my favorite cheese, tomatoes, avocado, thinly sliced red onion and some sprouts. In the past I had used those pitas you buy at the market in a bag. Sadly they’re extremely dry and tasteless. I have pledged to my family never to buy them again, and why would I when these are so easy to make myself. When they come out of the oven, they’re light and fluffy with a hint of that olive oil flavor.
If you take your sandwiches as seriously as I do, then I encourage you to give this recipe a try.
Recipe from The Fresh Loaf
Special equipment: baking stone
3 cups flour
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon sugar
2 1/4 teaspoons yeast or one packet of active, dry yeast
1 1/4 – 1 1/2 cups water, at room temperature
2 tablespoons olive oil
1. Dissolve the yeast in 1/4 cup water (100 degrees) by stirring and then stir in 1 teaspoon of sugar and let stand for 10 minutes until bubbly.
2. Then mix the yeast in with the flour, salt and sugar. Add the olive oil and 1 1/4 cups of water and stir together with a wooden spoon, until all ingredients form a ball. (If mixture is too dry, add more water, if too wet add more flour).
3. Using a bowl scraper, take the dough out of the bowl and place on a work surface dusted lightly with flour. You can knead by hand for 10 minutes, or in the bowl of an electric mixer on low speed for 10 minutes using a dough hook. If you do knead the dough in the electric mixer, you will still need to do more hand-kneading once you take it out of the mixer. The dough should be smooth and elastic, and spring back when you poke it with your finger.
4. When you’re done kneading the dough, take a large, clean bowl and lightly rub it with oil, or spray with cooking spray. Form a ball out of the dough and roll it around the bowl to lightly coat it on all sides with the oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and set aside to rise for 90 minutes in a warm, draft-free spot. The dough should double in size.
5. When it has doubled in size, punch the dough down to release the gases and divide it into 10 pieces. (I placed entire piece of dough on a kitchen scale, and divided the total weight by 10 so that all pieces weighed approximately the same.) Roll each piece into a ball and cover the balls with plastic wrap that has been lightly sprayed with cooking spray, and let dough rest for 20 minutes.
6. While the dough is resting, preheat oven to 400 degrees F, with a baking stone in it . If you don’t have a baking stone, you can turn a cookie sheet upside down and place it on the middle rack of the oven while you are preheating it.
7. After the dough has relaxed for 20 minutes, dust your work surface lightly with flour and place one of the balls of dough there. Sprinkle a little bit of flour on top of the ball of dough and use a rolling pin to stretch and flatten the dough. You should roll it out into a 1/8″ to 1/4″ thick round.
8. Open the oven and place 2 pitas on the hot baking surface. I let them bake for about 4 minutes until they were baked through and puffy. You can let them bake longer if you like them crispier. I removed them with tongs, and let them cool on a baking rack.
Store in a plastic bag for several days.
All I could hear out in the middle of the Pacific, was the rhythmic sound of the water slapping the side of the boat. My surroundings seemed so muted. No cell phones ringing, no car horns honking, only the occasional squawking of a sea-gull looking for it’s next meal. The sky was pale, the sea appeared gray and the white sails of the others boats almost disappeared against the sky. We were just a mile off shore, but a world away from that whirling dervish they call Los Angeles. Rodolfo was the skipper of the boat, and my husband Neil and Rodolfo’s wife Sonia were in charge of operating the ropes that controlled the sails. My job, lunch of course.
I got up early in the morning because I wanted to bake fresh French bread for the sandwiches that I was making for our 4th of July sea adventure. For me, the bread is the key to a tasty sandwich. I thought back to the sandwiches we had had in tiny cafes in Europe and my favorite was always the Serrano ham. This is a dry-cured Spanish ham, and I love it’s salty, buttery flavor. I added to it Manchego cheese which is a firm, Spanish cheese made from sheep’s milk. I spread fig jam on the bread, and finished it off with arugula and thinly sliced red onion. The layering of these flavors set off fireworks in my mouth! It was a happy July 4th.
Serrano Ham Sandwich
crispy French baguettes
thinly sliced Serrano ham
sliced Manchego cheese
fig jam (at most upscale markets)
red onion (sliced thin on mandoline)
I usually have a baguette or two left over, so the next day we had Serrano ham crostini. I sliced the day-old bread about an inch thick, brushed it with olive oil and placed it on the grill for a few minutes. This makes a great appetizer.