One of the things my wife and I recently noticed is that we have come to depend on convenience foods when we travel. As a kid, I remember always packing a sandwich and drinks for long car rides as a kid (in the snow, uphill, both ways), but these days depend on the WaWa or its equivalent that we can depend to be pretty much anywhere we go. Lately, we’ve been trying to remember to pack our own better-tasting, healthier, and more-economical food and take advantage of Virginia’s great rest stops and wayside picnic areas. We don’t always remember, but it’s fun to take an extra 10-15 minutes on a trip and have a picnic with the kids. Even if you eat on the go, it still beats grabbing a burger, but what to pack?
One of the great packable foods in this world is the pressed sandwich. It’s a dense, delicious, and easy to bring along sandwich that is great for camping, picnics, or for when a hungry crowd comes over.
The sandwich below is made with lots of good, Virginia ham—a lot like a mufuletta—but there are some great vegetarian versions as well. The techniques are the same—fill good bread with good stuff, wrap it up tight, and put something heavy on top for at least a couple of hours in the fridge (overnight is better).
Here we have cheese, mixed cold cuts, olive tapenade, and pesto. It’s best to make your own olive salad and pesto because the store-bought stuff is so expensive, but we didn’t put up any pesto this summer, and I was in a hurry (this particular sandwhich was meant for a camping trip on short notice). I’m using Billy’s Bread, but you can use any bread of any size and/or shape that can hold up to the treatment. Roasted or fried sweet peppers are really nice, too.
One of the most important things is to make sure you’ve got a lot of oil on the bread (olive oil is a major component of the pesto (top) and olive salad (bottom)). The oil will soak into the bread and keep it from getting soggy, which is especially important if you’re putting on a lot of veggies. After you have your oil on, you put on the rest of your toppings and…
Next, you want to wrap the sandwich up in plastic wrap. A giant, commercial roll of plastic wrap doesn’t look great on the counter (I’m told), but it comes in handy.
Now comes the hard part—you put a bunch of heavy things on a cookie sheet on top of your sandwich in the fridge and leave it alone for at least 8 hours, preferably over night. The oils and juices soak into the bread and turn into something really special.
The final product is dense, rich, and travels very well. Just slice off an inch or two per person, and you’re ready to go.