As I write this, I'm sitting in a cosy little cottage in Nelson looking out over a glorious view of the sea as the sun sets into a tawny pink horizon. I've been here nearly two weeks now, and my daily routine consists of getting up early, making a packed lunch and heading off to the workshop where I am learning (well, attempting to learn) how to throw clay and make pottery. In the absence of holidays in faraway places, it's been great to have a change of scene (Nelson is glorious in the winter) and learn something new.
It is, however, quite some time since I've been in the packed lunch brigade. Sandwiches to the rescue. The secret to a great sandwich, I've discovered, is to buy the freshest possible bread, slice it (if it's not already sliced), and put it in the freezer right away. In the morning, you take out the slices you need and butter them while they are still frozen - no problems if the butter is hard, the bread won't tear. Fill and cut your sandwiches as you please and wrap them tightly or pop into a sealed container. By the time lunch rolls around the bread will be thawed and your sammies will be stunningly fresh.
Every culture seems to approach sandwiches differently. In Scandinavia the sandwich of choice is smorrebrod - an open-faced sandwich with different choices of toppings, like roast beef and pickles, prawns mixed with mayo, or paté and gherkins. Vietnam is famous for its banh mi sandwiches - a crusty baguette split and spread with paté, filled with cold cuts, pickled carrots, spring onions, cucumber, coriander and chilli. In Spain it's easy to live on a steady diet of bocadillos - a length of baguette filled with serrano ham and manchego cheese, with a drizzle of olive oil. France's most popular sandwich is known as the "Parisien" and consists of nothing more than a baguette spread with butter and filled with slices of ham. Astonishingly, in a country where more than 830 million sandwiches are bought annually, this simple ham and butter filling makes up 64 per cent of the total consumption of sandwiches in France.
My French sandwich of choice is a crusty baguette filled with farmhouse paté, cornichons, crispy lettuce and a drizzle of vinaigrette dressing.
The availability of store-bought packaged pulled pork makes for the speedy assembly of both Asian-style pulled pork buns and American-style barbecue pork and slaw buns. For the Asian ones, use store-bought bao buns, thaw and warm - either by steaming or in the microwave. Mix a spoonful of hoisin sauce with a little mayo and spread into the buns along with the warmed pulled pork, grated carrot, sliced cucumber, crisp lettuce greens and sliced spring onions.
For American-style buns, fill the warmed pulled pork into baps with slaw dressed with a tangy mustardy mayo and finish with a good drizzle of barbecue sauce.
Here's to the pleasures of a good sandwich.
Tuna Nicoise Sandwich with Salsa Verde
If you can't be bothered making the salsa verde, use pesto thinned with a little olive oil. Olive tapenade also works well.
Ready in 10 mins + chilling
½ loaf Turkish bread, ciabatta, focaccia or a whole baguette
About ¼ cup salsa verde (see below)
Flesh of 2 roasted red peppers, quartered
2 hard-boiled eggs, sliced
Salt and ground black pepper
210g can tuna, drained and roughly flaked
2-3 Tbsp mayonnaise, to bind
2-3 handfuls watercress, spinach or rocket, washed and spun dry
Slice the bread horizontally through the centre. Spread both cut sides with salsa verde.
Arrange peppers on base half of bread, top with slices of egg. Season with salt and pepper. Mix tuna with a little mayo to bind, season if needed, then spoon evenly over eggs.
Top with watercress or other greens and sandwich with top half of bread. Wrap up tightly in kitchen paper. Weight the loaf down with something heavy and chill for several hours.
To serve, slice with a sharp knife.
Speedy Salsa Verde
Makes about 2 cups
2 cloves garlic
2 big handfuls parsley leaves, coarse stems removed
1 handful of chives, roughly chopped
1 small handful of mint leaves (optional)
2 Tbsp capers
1 Tbsp Dijon mustard
1¼ cups extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Puree all ingredients in a blender or food processor until smooth. The salsa keeps in a jar in the fridge for about a week or can be frozen.
Classic Reuben Sandwich
If you would like to serve this hot, wrap the loaf in baking paper or tin foil and bake in an oven preheated to 180C fan bake for 12 minutes or until the outside of the loaf is crispy and the cheese is melting and oozy.
Ready in 10 mins + standing
1 loaf ciabatta bread
2 Tbsp Dijon mustard
½ cup good-quality mayonnaise
6-8 slices corned beef
6-8 slices Comte or Gruyere-style cheese
400g can or jar sauerkraut, drained and squeezed to get rid of all liquid
Split loaf lengthways and spread both cut surfaces with mustard, then mayonnaise.
Layer corned beef on the base, add cheese, then spread sauerkraut evenly over the top.
Sandwich with lid, wrap in baking paper and weight down with a heavy roasting dish filled with a couple of cans for at least 30 minutes or up to 2 hours.
Cut into thick slices to serve.
Beef and Rocket Sandwiches
Rare beef is nicest for these tasty sandwiches. Bulk them up for a no-fuss dinner with slices of hard cheese and tomatoes.
Ready: 10 mins
4 slices sourdough bread (or bread of your choice)
2 tsp horseradish
2 Tbsp mayonnaise
2 tsp olive oil
1 tsp white balsamic vinegar or white wine vinegar
1 pinch sugar
1 small handful rocket leaves
4 slices cold roast beef, preferably rare
Salt and ground black pepper
3 Tbsp tomato relish or chutney
Toast or grill the bread. Mix horseradish with mayonnaise and spread over two pieces of the toasted bread. Whisk oil, vinegar and sugar in a medium bowl.
Toss rocket leaves in the oil and vinegar mix and divide over prepared toast bases. Overlap slices of beef on top. Season with salt and pepper.
Spread the other two slices of toasted bread with relish or chutney and place on top.
Yvonne's picks ...
(Tuna Nicoise sandwich)
Pinot noir and tuna are like love and marriage even when they're in a sandwich. So treat yourself to a large goblet of Greywacke Marlborough Pinot Noir 2019 ($48) to celebrate its spectacular compatibility with salty, oily, Nicoise niceness. Slippery-smooth, spice-saturated and wildly aromatic, Kevin Judd's new pinot noir is stacked with cherry, plum and tamarillo-tastic tension which adds classy balance to this crusty bite. I love it!
(Beef and rocket sandwiches)
Pair the peppery rocket and all the nostril-expanding horseradish in this sandwich with the sweet, dark, palate-whomp of the Workshop Brewing Obstruction Quad II (11.9 per cent abv 330ml $10). It's a heavy-duty, unfiltered, Belgian Quadrupel, born from their "house yeast", 66sixtus, that hoovered its way through cane and candy sugars and local smoked malts to create a muscular, cocoa, coffee and prune-edged brew. It'll throw a thin film of yeast, so decant or pour it very carefully.
Fretting about what to sip as you roar through meaty mouthfuls of sauerkraut and Dijon mustard? The Monowai Hawke's Bay Pinot Noir Rosé 2020 ($25) has enough creaming soda, raspberry and cherry aromatics to calm your farm and enough generously dry, clean, berry-edged layers of flavour to wrap around the corned beef like a boss. Juicy, textural and a total triumph with this classic American sammie.