It’s Back to School time, which means it’s time you get a handle on how to make the best sandwiches.
It’s back to school time, which means it’s also the time of year that parents and guardians are getting lunches ready for their children and themselves. I grew up with a dad who made the best sandwiches on earth. I don’t say this lightly. The man has a gift for making incredible sandwiches. Maybe it’s because he was a teacher for 40 years and sandwiches are a great whole meal to get a teacher from lunchtime to that final bell. Whatever the reason, I’m so grateful to have been born into a family where sandwiches were not just something slopped together. There was diligence and intention put into them.
So, not only am I going to reveal some of the tricks I’ve learned along the way, but I’m going to reveal a huge secret element that not only works in sandwiches but for any meal of the day. You’re welcome, friends.
Dad’s Sandwich Tips
You must use high-quality bread.
If there is one thing I learned growing up Italian, it’s that the caliber of ingredient matters. Don’t screw around with trash ingredients. Use or have less but make it the good stuff. Not all bread is created equally, so get a nice loaf from a local Italian bakery. If your grocery store has a solid bakery or has take-and-bake bread, use that. A nice crust adds a great layer of texture.
Are you packing your lunch the night before? You’ll be glad you used a good, hearty bread because it will stand the test of time in the refrigerator and your lunch box. Trust me.
Toast your sandwich.
As an impatient teenager, I used to lose my shit waiting on my dad to make sandwiches for us. On Saturday afternoons while my mom was working at the bridal shop she owned with my aunt, my dad would come inside from the Florida heat and take a break from the yard work and generally putzing around.
The man is a perfectionist, and when he makes sandwiches, he acts like he’s curing cancer or something. “Art cannot be rushed.” And I realize now that this is true, but when you’re 15, and your best friend wants to meet you at the beach, you just want to eat and run.
What took so damn long, you ask? The man was toasting the freaking bread. Sometimes, he’d use the toaster or toaster oven, but when Phil feels fancy, he oils the bread and gets a pan out, and for this, you wait.
Is it worth the wait? You bet your ass it is, but also, “hurry up, daddy, the movie at the mall starts in like 20 minutes!”
So, if you have time, invest in toasting your bread. You won’t be sorry when your sandwich is warm, and you take a bite and your bread has a crunch to it.
If the crusty, toasted bread wasn’t a dead giveaway, my dad is big on texture. Sometimes though, you don’t have a fresh, crusty Italian loaf or time to toast your bread. What do you do then?
Get yourself some lettuce.
Picture yourself, an impatient teenager, home on an hour break from theater rehearsal, and your dad offers to make you a sandwich. At first, you think, “cool, Daddy, makes killer sandwiches.” You then realize that he must toast the bread, wash the lettuce, dry the lettuce, go get some fresh tomatoes from the garden, and grab the mortadella from the refrigerator in the garage. Sure, you help out as much as you can, but time is of the essence.
Anyway, if you don’t have Phil Panzera making your sandwiches and good ole fashioned white bread, throw a fresh, crispy romaine leaf onto your sandwich. You’ll get the added crunch and fiber. Like, it’s not a salad, but it’s still a vegetable.
Make it saucy.
Now, don’t get me wrong, you should absolutely not go overboard with sauce, and I should note, I’m using the word “sauce” really loosely here. What I’m trying to say is to not have a dry sandwich. Take the time to put a small dab of mayo or Miracle Whip on that sammy. If you’re like me and think mayo and Miracle Whip are kind of gross (save it, folks, I don’t want to get into a war about this. I’m 37, and I’ve yet to eat a sandwich and been glad it has mayo on it), use mustard or maybe a creamy salad dressing. I’m mostly a mustard, gal. It’s great for keeping things low calorie, and Dijon mustard is creamy and tangy.
I will say, my dad is really good about not going overboard with mayo. He uses just enough to add a light sheen to the bread, and since it’s toasted, it doesn’t get absorbed into the bread. Regardless, I swap mustard for mayo or a mashed-up avocado. If I have it on hand, I also love adding homemade pesto.
The secret element: roasted veggies.
Growing up, my mother used to roast a huge pan sheet of vegetables. She would use zucchini, bell peppers (you need to use the sweet yellow, red, and orange ones in addition to the more bitter green ones), eggplant, and onions. NOTE: It’s really important to cut the vegetables to about the same size so they cook evenly.
Before placing them on a sheet pan, she would put everything into a large bowl. She’d add what seemed like an insane amount of salt.
“What?” she’d asked when you looked at her cross-eyed, “Peppers and eggplant need lots of salt.”
And you know what? She was right. Don’t be afraid to season your vegetables. It makes a huge difference. When I’m making them, my rule of thumb is that the peppers need to be salted to the point where I could eat them as a salad. That’s when I know I’m good.
She’d then add pepper, garlic and onion powder, dried basil, dried oregano, and fresh parsley. If there was fresh oregano and basil around, she would use that instead.
Finally, and this is the most important part, she’d sprinkle the vegetable with Italian seasoned breadcrumbs.
The vegetables roast in the oven at 450 F until they start to caramelize.
I’m sorry I can’t give you an exact time. When I can smell them, I check them. That’s roughly about 30 minutes. I like them a little on the “burnt” side, like when the edges are just starting to crisp up.
The best thing about these roasted vegetables is not only do they make an incredible side dish, but they can be added to a salad, served with roasted or grilled sausage, added to a sandwich, or mixed into scrambled eggs.
I like making a big batch of them and adding them to whatever I’m making that week: salad, scrambled eggs, quiche, etc. When added to a sandwich the olive oil and juices from the vegetables soak into the bread. Then there is no need for mayo, mustard, or anything like that. Just the vegetables, meat cheese, and lettuce for the crunch.
What are your sandwich secrets?
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