Tangy, juicy, crunchy, creamy, zesty: What more can you ask of a summer sandwich? Chef Gabrielle Hamilton shares her recipe.
Gabrielle Hamilton's summer sandwich.This vegetarian beauty is a fork-and-knife sandwich, derived - loosely - from one I had in the early '70s when vegetarianism in this country was, alas, all part of the politics and not part of the fun.
My mom, an otherwise omnivorous, sensible, and innate "nose-to-tail" cook - constantly braising some whole animal in a pot on a back burner in our kitchen - and a die-hard cashmere type, suddenly started to show sympathies for the ethos of the era. She owned a macramé bikini, kept a dog-eared copy of What Color Is Your Parachute? on the bookshelf, and started taking me frequently to a "natural" café in town called Sweet Emily's, where we shared an avocado sandwich on pumpernickel bread with sprouts, red onions, and cream cheese. No matter that the cream cheese was stiff with guar gum, the black bread soft and overloaded with molasses, and the alfalfa sprouts a little mildewed and waterlogged - I was just glad she wasn't attending EST seminars! I loved sharing that sandwich with her at Sweet Emily's.
This version is more contemporary, obviously, and in keeping with our particular era, made with gorgeous French peasant bread, excellent full-fat whole-milk ricotta from a dairy in Little Italy, and the household staple of our decade (at least I hope so): the preserved lemon.
I wanted to keep that satisfying crunch and watery freshness of sprouts, but while they are easy to grow, they are difficult to keep fresh, and even more difficult to buy satisfactorily at the store - no matter what store - because they are highly perishable and easily mishandled. So juicy little tomatoes, in a mix of sunny colors, topped with toasted sesame and poppy seeds stand in to do the job of providing juicy, earthy crunch. And while we now have very nicely produced cream cheese readily available, I like the way both the texture and the tang of ricotta works in the sandwich better.
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The pretty and decorative red onions - and their inherent burn - help to give some lift to the creamy, unctuous super-richness of the avocado, and hopefully will dissuade your parents from kissing other people's spouses at the key party later!
1 pound (scant 2 cups) fresh ricotta
Zest of 2 lemons
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus 4 teaspoons for drizzling
2 pinches coarse kosher salt
1 pinch ground black pepper
4 long, even slices of very good bread
2 large, perfectly ripe avocados (approximately 18 ounces), at room temperature
1 pint mixed-color grape tomatoes, cut in half horizontally (you won't use quite the entire pint)
8 red pearl onions equaling 2-3 ounces, thinly sliced into rounds (or equivalent in thinly sliced red onion)
4 teaspoons toasted sesame seeds
Skin of 1 preserved lemon, flesh removed, finely diced
½ teaspoon toasted poppy seeds
Mix the ricotta with the lemon zest, ¼ cup olive oil, and salt and pepper, and set aside.
Arrange slices of bread on a cutting board and divide the ricotta mixture evenly among the four slices. Spread into a generous even layer.
Split the avocados, remove the pits, and slice each half into even slices without cutting all the way through the leathery skin. Then, with a soup spoon or a flexible rubber spatula, release the flesh and arrange the slices neatly and evenly among the bread slices.
Artfully and attractively arrange the tomatoes by nesting them into the soft avocado. Then arrange the red onion slices over the tomatoes.
Garnish each sandwich with the sesame seeds.
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