The earth shook the day Kyle and I first met 13 years ago. Or perhaps that was the creaking floorboards of the Cracker Barrel dining room where we both waited tables. We were two young (though not so young) kids working our way through dinner shifts and collegiate essays, bonding over a shared love of Harry Potter and cheesy movies, capital B Bits, and so much of the other minutia a friendship is founded upon.
The young Kyle I knew then is not the same one who bakes before you. When we first met, he boasted of only two recipes in his repertoire: ramen surprise and easy cheese sprayed on Ritz crackers (or up your nose if he’s feeling ornery . . . another story, another day). Of course, the surprise in ramen surprise is that it’s edible, and the easy cheese led to a pretty stellar re-creation of Amy Sedaris’s cheeseball, but he was upfront about his lack of cooking and baking knowledge. And the first several years we were friends, it remained that way (in the interest of full disclosure, I wasn’t quite the cook I am now either. I did cook often, but what I lacked in elegance I made up for in salt. Much like the ramen surprise).
This all changed one summer when Kyle randomly decided to start cooking in earnest. I’m not sure how the journey begins—that’s his tale to tell—but I do remember the exact moment I saw clearly how much he’d grown. He invited myself and some of our closest friends to spend a weekend at his parents’ lake house. We were instructed to bring nothing but our sweet selves and maybe a bottle or four of wine, and, when we arrived, he’d orchestrated a whole weekend of carefully planned food and fun. I mention the food first because . . . well, I always mention the food first. He’d arranged for every meal for the entire weekend, and it was amazing. The recipe that still stands out in my mind for sentimental reasons (and one I’ve tried my hand at several times over the years since) is this pressed picnic sandwich. It’s the perfect sandwich to make for a day of summer fun when grilling isn’t an option and the most prep work you can handle before setting out in the morning is brewing all the coffee.
There’s a lot to love here—as Joey from Friends would say, “Meat? good. Cheese? Good. Pesto? Goooood.” And the ingredients are easily adaptable. Kyle made his with Italian meats, cheeses, and a homemade pesto sauce that he also used on one of the few pasta salads I’ve ever liked (here our version uses pesto mayonnaise with an adapted arugula pesto from our traditional recipe. Simply use a 3 cups arugula to 1 cup of basil ratio). I’ll admit it; I’m a pesto-salad snob. I find them boring, mushy, and nowhere near as enticing as the vinegary coleslaw I’m craving (also—who is Cole and where did he learn to slaw like that? I’d love to hit him up if he’s reading . . .). But apparently if you add some pesto and feta cheese, I’m all in. Like poker, but with salad.
Since that weekend, I’ve made these sandwiches and pasta salad frequently for an easy weekend lunch when we’re expecting company or traveling to the beach. Or for any group gathering when there’s no guarantee of a heating or cooling source. The sandwiches pack beautifully in a cooler and stay fresh for the full day following. So go forth and eat you some flattened sandwiches! Bring the pasta salad too, and let your spirit of adventure guide you now that lunch is covered, even if it’s guiding you only as far as the kitchen.
- 1 loaf of focaccia, or equally hearty and chewy bread
- ⅔ cup of pesto aioli (recipe below)
- Basil leaves, separated from their stem
- 4 ounces sliced soppresatta or other salami
- 3 ounces sliced prosciutto
- 6 ounces sliced provolone cheese
- 6 ounces sliced mozzarella
- 1 cup fresh arugula
- Balsamic vinegar, for drizzling
- Pesto Aioli:
- 1 cup mayonnaise
- ⅓ cup pesto sauce (we used arugula pesto)
- Juice of one lemon
- Mix Pesto Aioli ingredients in a bowl, and refrigerate until needed; sauce will keep for up to 2 weeks.
- Slice the loaf of bread lengthwise. Place both halves, cut side up, on a cutting board.
- Spread the aioli liberally on both sides of the bread. This is why the bread needs to be hearty, so that it doesn’t become soggy as it chills overnight.
- Line one half of the loaf with basil leaves.
- Begin arranging the meat and cheeses, making sure they are equally divided on one half of the loaf.
- Top with arugula and drizzle with balsamic vinegar. Assemble the sandwich.
- Wrap tightly with plastic wrap and place on the bottom shelf of your fridge with several heavy books on top, ones you don’t mind getting a little chilled.
- The next morning: Unwrap the sandwiches and cut into desired sizes. Wrap with parchment paper and twine to achieve desired cutesiness.
- 2 cups cooked pasta, cooled. I used bowtie, but penne or something equally small will work.
- 2 cups shelled edamame
- 2 oz pimentos
- 3 oz crumbled feta cheese
- ⅓ cup pesto sauce
- ⅓ cup plain Greek yogurt
- juice of ½ lemon.
- Place the first 4 ingredients in a large bowl.
- In a separate bowl, mix the pesto, yogurt, and lemon juice until combined.
- Add the sauce to the dry ingredients and mix well.
- Chill for 1 hour before serving.