Take a bright, olive-y panzanella sort of salad and stuff it into a sandwich. The resulting delicacy, readers, is patafla.
Never 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.
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.