Patafla: A Tomato Salad Sandwich

Patafla | Big Girls Small Kitchen

Take a bright, olive-y panzanella sort of salad and stuff it into a sandwich. The resulting delicacy, readers, is patafla.

Never heard of it? Neither had Craig Claiborne in 1985, except for one tiny reference in an already-old book.

I have seen reference to patafla in only one source book–Elizabeth David’s A Book of Mediterranean Food, which first appeared about thirty years ago. She describes patafla as a kind of salad served in a sandwich.

It consists of chopped tomatoes, onions, sweet red peppers, pitted black olives, pitted green olives, and gherkins or sour pickles all blended in a bowl. To this you add olive oil, a sprinkling of paprika and salt and pepper. Slice a crusty loaf of French bread and pull out the soft inner part. Cut the soft part into small cubes and add it to the vegetable mixture, then stir. Spoon the vegetable mixture into the two halves of bread and combine, sandwich fashion. This is chilled well and then sliced.

Sixty-odd years later, it’s September in New York. I’m just off a big research project which demanded that I take many old cookbooks out of the library (and accidentally donate many dollars in late fees), and there are tons of tomatoes ripening and begging to be eaten. In searching for my actual subject in Claiborne’s alphabetical food listings The New York Times Food Encyclopedia, I discovered an entry about patafla, and I knew I had to make it.

Patafla has been left undiscovered, in spite of our preoccupation with retro recipes and authentic cooking. There are no records of it that I could find anywhere, besides David’s. She published her book about Mediterranean cooking in post-War Great Britain, with the intent of brightening the gray atmosphere, and so honestly who knows where she found patafla. But I’m glad she did.

Basically, as you saw in the quote above, patafla consists of a fresh tomato salad punctuated by many briny ingredients: pickles, olives, and such. By scraping out some of the soft interior of a bread loaf and mixing the crumbs with the salad, you give the vegetables something to hang onto. The outsides of the bread get over-stuffed with this mixture, before being tightly sandwiched, wrapped, and refrigerated. Overnight, the sandwich “cooks,” in much the same way as a summer pudding, with the juices and the bread solidifying into a seriously charming, delicious sandwich that, because it should be made ahead, is perfect for brown bag lunches and picnicking.


Patafla: A Tomato Salad Sandwich
Makes 2 substantial sandwiches

The sandwich, according to David, is best made a day in advance. I translated the description above into a recipe with easy proportions–but feel free to give the sandwich your own spin!

2 medium tomatoes (about 1 pound total), chopped
2 tablespoons minced onion (about 1/4 of a small onion)
1/2 red pepper, chopped
8 good-quality black olives, pitted
6 good-quality green olives, pitted
2 teaspoons capers
2 tablespoons chopped sour pickle
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons olive oil
pinch of paprikia
2 demi baguettes or 1 baguette

Combine the tomatoes, onion, red pepper, olives, capers, pickle, salt, olive oil, and paprika in a bowl. Toss to combine.

Cut each baguette in half.  Pull out the insides of the bread and tear into bite-sized pieces. Add to the bowl with the tomatoes, and toss again to combine. Taste for salt, adding a little more if you like.

Set the baguettes on a cutting board. Stuff both top and bottoms with the tomato-bread salad, getting in as much as you can. (The leftovers are a great snack.) Sandwich together, then roll up in a piece of parchment paper, folding in the ends. Wrap the parchment-covered sandwich in plastic wrap or bee’s wrap. Refrigerate for a few hours, or overnight. Unwrap and cut into slices or halves.

Posted in: meatless monday
  • Luci’s Morsels

    Such simple genius to mix the breadcrumbs into the salad to make the sandwich. That’s definitely my lesson for the day! This looks great; thanks for sharing!!

    Luci’s Morsels – fashion. food. frivolity.

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