Eating for Life

Tuna Pan Bagnat is a picnic treat that offers good nutrition on the go

This column was originally published in 2007.

Sure, fried chicken, potato salad and coleslaw are considered your standard, all-American picnic fare. But the movable feast begs a few modern questions: Is it lean? Is it convenient to make? And, once you make it, is it easily portable to your rendezvous site?

Looks like it’s time to take a cue from the French. When heading for a grassy knoll under a shady tree, they tote along tuna pan bagnat (pronounced “pan ban-YAH’).

A sandwich is by definition easy to make and easily portable. The Star’s version of

Pan Bagnat

is the perfect picnic sandwich because it must be made ahead of time. The name means “soaked bread.”

In this case, a very crusty baguette is the perfect bread to use. The top and bottom slices are painted with olive oil, a heart-healthy monounsaturated fat that keeps water-packed tuna, which has the tendency to be mealy or dry, moist. The sandwich ingredients — lean protein paired with antioxidant-rich tomatoes, onions, spinach and peppers — are also bathed in a white wine vinaigrette.

The idea is the flavors seep into the bread as it is pressed. Luckily, no fancy equipment is required. To press it, simply place a narrow tray, small skillet or a couple of small plates on top of the sandwich, and then weigh that down with a can from the pantry.

Tuna Pan Bagnat Makes 6 servings 1 very crusty baguette 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar 2 teaspoons olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced Freshly ground pepper, to taste 16 to 20 fresh small spinach or lettuce leaves, trimmed 1 (6-ounce) can chunk white tuna in water, drained and flaked 1/2 cup shredded mozzarella cheese 1/4 cup finely chopped red onion 3 Roma tomatoes, thinly sliced 1/2 small red pepper, very thinly sliced 3/4 to 1 cup very thin slices cucumber

Split baguette in half lengthwise. With fingertips, gently scoop out soft center of each bread half, leaving a shell. (Reserve soft bread for other use.) Place bread shells, cut side up, on large sheet of heavy-duty aluminum foil.

Combine wine vinegar, olive oil, garlic and pepper. Brush cut surface of bread with vinegar mixture; reserve remaining vinegar mixture.

Arrange half of spinach leaves in a single layer in one bread shell. Spoon tuna evenly down center of bread shell on top of spinach leaves. Layer, in order over tuna, shredded cheese, onion, tomatoes and red pepper. Slowly drizzle with remaining vinegar mixture, pouring so that it soaks down over vegetables in sandwich. Arrange cucumbers (overlapping as necessary) over sandwich, then place remaining spinach leaves on top of cucumber. Top sandwich with second bread shell.

Wrap sandwich very tightly in aluminum foil. Place on tray. Weigh down top of sandwich. Refrigerate two to 24 hours.

Per serving: 307 calories (19 percent from fat), 7 grams total fat (2 grams saturated), 17 milligrams cholesterol, 45 grams carbohydrates, 17 grams protein, 604 milligrams sodium, 4 grams dietary fiber.