Sandwiches flavored with a sense of place

Two cookbooks celebrate regional picnic fare

From coast to coast, the sandwich is being liberated. No reason for undue alarm: The days of peanut butter and jelly are far from over. But some seasoned sandwichmakers are nudging us to become a bit more adventurous.

Two new cookbooks, "The Foster's Market Cookbook" ($35, Random House), and "The Jimtown Store Cookbook" ($32.50, Harper Collins), provide creative, appetizing ideas for sandwiches, along with a wide variety of salads, main dishes, and desserts. They're very different from one another, taking on the characteristics and cultural influences of their regions. Yet they both present accessible home-style classics made with fresh local ingredients. And both cookbooks grew out of successful food businesses.

The Jimtown Store, a popular gathering place for those who enjoy simple, honest food served outdoors, is nestled among the vineyards of northern California's Sonoma County. In North Carolina, Foster's Market attracts aficionados of fine cooking and freshly baked breads and desserts to its two cafes and takeout shops in Durham and Chapel Hill.

When advising others, Sara Foster, owner of Foster's Market, encourages a spirit of experimentation and willingness to let one's tastebuds guide.

"A sandwich, for instance, should be a combination of the ingredients you like," she explains in a telephone interview. "Be innovative." And in her book, she writes: "Even though I created these recipes thoughtfully and carefully to result in certain flavors and textures, they're not sacred."

One of Foster's favorites is a bacon, avocado, cucumber, and sprout sandwich. It follows her rule to always include an ingredient with crunch. Crisp potatoes, romaine lettuce, cucumber, carrots, or peppers will do. This sandwich incorporates a homemade spread – basil mayonnaise, which, adds an interesting dimension. Foster also suggests trying different types of breads and wraps.

During the decade that Foster's Market has been open, each of the recipes in her book has been made hundreds, sometimes thousands, of times. "Simplicity is the key," she says, noting that her dishes don't require complicated techniques or hard-to-find ingredients.

For Carrie Brown, co-author of "The Jimtown Store Cookbook" and owner of the Jimtown Store, a sandwich should never be hard to eat. "I'm one of those less-is-more people and don't like overstuffed sandwiches," she says. "Just a nice balance of flavors is needed."

Jimtown's signature item is the Sonoma Picnic Sandwich. Made with fig-and-black-olive tapenade, mild goat cheese, prosciutto, and peppery greens on French bread, it joins flavors that are sweet, salty, tangy, and bitter.

"The combination sounds a little unexpected, but people really like it," says Ms. Brown. She also favors this sandwich for the ingredients' connection to Sonoma Valley's Mediterranean climate. With a sense of satisfaction, she notes: "This sandwich reflects our sense of place."

Foster's Market Sandwich with Bacon, Avocado, Cucumber, and Sprouts

8 slices whole-grain bread or 4 wraps

8 pieces bacon, well cooked

2 tomatoes, sliced

1 cucumber, thinly sliced

1 avocado, sliced

Handful of alfalfa sprouts

Spread Herbed Cream Cheese (recipe below) on one side of a slice of whole-grain bread or on a wrap. Top the Herbed Cream Cheese with 2 pieces of crispy bacon, 1/2 sliced tomato, several slices of cucumber, a few slices of avocado, and alfalfa sprouts. Spread 1 side of a second slice of bread with Basil Mayonnaise (recipe below), and place on top of sprouts. Repeat three times.

Serves 4.

Herbed Cream Cheese

Two 8-ounce packages cream cheese, softened

Juice of 1 lemon

2 scallions, trimmed and minced

1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley

1 teaspoon chopped fresh dill

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

In a medium-size bowl, cream together the cream cheese and lemon juice. Stir in the scallions, parsley, dill, and pepper, and mix until smooth and well blended. Refrigerate in an airtight container until ready to use or up to 6 days.

Makes 2 cups.

Basil Mayonnaise

1 large egg

2 tablespoons white-wine vinegar

Juice of 1 lemon

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

2 garlic cloves, chopped

2 cups canola or safflower oil

10 fresh basil leaves, cut into thin strips

2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Place the egg, vinegar, and lemon juice in a food processor fitted with the metal blade, and pulse to blend. With the motor running, add the mustard and garlic. Add the oil down the feed tube, and blend until mixture becomes thick.

Add the basil and parsley and purée until well combined and the mixture is bright green. Season with salt and pepper and refrigerate in an airtight container until ready to use.

Makes about 2-1/2 cups.

Jimtown Store's
Sonoma Picnic Sandwich

4 (5-inch) sections French baguette

1/2 cup Fig & Black Olive Tapenade (see recipe below)

About 4 ounces soft, mild goat cheese, at room temperature

Freshly ground black pepper

8 ounces best-quality prosciutto

About 2-1/2 cups loosely packed peppery greens, such as arugula, watercress, or mesclun

With a serrated knife, split the baguette sections in half horizontally. Evenly spread the tapenade over the cut sides of the bread bottoms, using it all. Evenly spread the cheese over the cut sides of the bread tops, using it all. Season the cheese generously with pepper. Arrange the prosciutto slices over the tapenade. Top the prosciutto with the arugula. Close up the sandwiches.

With a serrated knife, cut the sandwiches in half diagonally. Serve immediately or wrap tightly in waxed paper and keep cool for up to 3 hours.

Serves 4.

Fig & Black Olive Tapenade

2 cups quartered and dried black figs, such as Black Mission (If unavailable, it's fine without them, but use only 1 cup of olive oil.)

3 cups water

4 cups (1 pound) pitted Greek Kalamata olives, coarsely chopped

7 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

3 tablespoons whole-grain mustard

4 garlic cloves, chopped

2 tablespoons capers

4 teaspoons fresh rosemary, minced

2 cups extra-virgin olive oil

Freshly ground black pepper

Salt

In a heavy, medium saucepan, combine the figs and water. Set over medium heat and bring to a simmer. Partially cover and cook, stirring once or twice, until the figs are very tender, about 30 minutes. Cool slightly, then drain, reserving 1 tablespoon of the fig liquid.

In a food processor, combine the figs, olives, lemon juice, mustard, garlic, capers, rosemary, and reserved fig liquid. Pulse to create a thick paste. With the motor running, gradually add the oil. Transfer to a storage container. Season generously with pepper and add salt to taste. Cover and refrigerate at least 24 hours. Before serving, bring the tapenade to room temperature.

Makes about 4 cups.

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