Tartine, llesque, smorrebrod, bruschetta - whatever it's called, one thing is abundantly clear: The open-faced sandwich is internationally well-liked.
Walk through Paris' St.-Germain-des-Pres and you're bound to see a glamorous cafe patron lingering at an outdoor table over a gorgeous tartine, maybe piled with slices of ham and topped with a dollop of griotte cherry jam and a big curl of butter, served on a large slice of Poilane sourdough. Traditionally, tartine was prepared for breakfast, spread simply with butter and confiture, but has become chic lunch fare.
And tony llesquerias in Barcelona have elevated what was once a humble repast of day-old bread rubbed with tomato and topped with ham or cheese or possibly anchovies to what is now considered an elegant dinner: crisp, fresh toast layered with arugula, beef carpaccio, paper-thin slices of delicate foie gras and shaved Parmesan.
The combinations are endless, though some are considered classic - and, of course, classic depends largely on geography. A smorrebrod of gravlax and honey mustard sauce is a Danish favorite. Balzac extolled pork rillettes from Tours for a tartine.
And an open-faced sandwich is a perfect summer lunch or light supper. What better time than late August or early September to go uncovered? This isn't a grab-it-with-your-hands, eat-it-while-you're-playing-cards Earl of Sandwich-type meal. It's a refined fork-and-knife entree, each bite to be relished and savored.
On the beach in Tahiti, sidle up to a snack bar for a tuna salad sandwich, and they'll make it for you with fresh ahi on a crusty baguette. It's the inspiration for an open-faced sandwich with ahi tuna grilled until just slightly pink in the center, mixed with Aleppo chile mayonnaise, avocados and Moroccan black olives. Top it with a slice of gently boiled egg, then sprinkle with additional Aleppo chile and fleur de sel.
Bread is the base on which all of your ingredients are layered, so rustic breads or large rolls and baguettes work well. "Pa amb tomaquet," bread rubbed with very ripe tomatoes, is the emblematic Catalan dish that often serves as the foundation for llesques, which means slices. Smorrebrod means buttered bread, and a smear of butter before grilling heightens the flavor and texture.
Or use a drizzle of good olive oil. When Majorcans who were imprisoned by Franco during the 1936 civil war staged a hunger strike, their chant went, "Volem pa amb oli," or "We want bread and oil."
And bruschetta was once used to check the quality of each season's olive oil. Rubbing both sides of the toasted bread with a cut clove of garlic also boosts flavor and is great with ingredients such as lampascioni onions, speck, Taleggio and sun-dried tomatoes.
Black mission figs are abundant in markets now. They might not be the first thing you think of when you want a sandwich, but think again. An open-faced sandwich made with figs, caramelized onions and melted manchego cheese is salty-sweet and nutty and warm. Marinating them in a little Muscat de Beaumes-de-Venise or other sweet wine before grilling them gives them a wonderful perfume without adding too much sweetness. The caramelized onions are smoky-sweet and the nutty, salty manchego is a perfect complement. It's a sandwich that can be lunch and dessert all in one.
But who says you have to limit yourself to just one sandwich? Do like the Danish, who eat smorrebrod in a procession: first one made with fish, followed by one with meat, and finally a cheese smorrebrod.
It's lunch in Copenhagen - or Paris or Barcelona or Rome - on a slice of bread.
Tuna and Avocado open-faced sandwich
1 pound ahi tuna, about 1-inch thick
1/2 cup olive oil, plus 1 teaspoon for rubbing on tuna
1 1/2 teaspoons salt, divided
1/4 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
1 clove garlic, mashed
2 egg yolks, at room temperature
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/2 cup canola oil
1/4 teaspoon ground Aleppo chile, plus a pinch for sprinkling on the eggs
2 tablespoons chopped green onions
1 tablespoon chopped brined Moroccan black olives
1 avocado, peeled, pitted and cut into small cubes
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1/2 cup microgreens
1 large baguette, cut into four (5-inch-long) sections and split in half and toasted
2 eggs, boiled for 10 minutes
Fleur de sel
Rub the surface of the tuna with 1 teaspoon olive oil, then sprinkle with one-half teaspoon salt and the black pepper. Let the tuna stand at room temperature for about half an hour before grilling. Sprinkle 1 teaspoon salt over the garlic on a chopping board and mince. With a wire whisk in a medium-size bowl, beat the egg yolks until foamy and a little sticky, about 1 to 2 minutes. Beat in the minced garlic with salt and then the lemon juice. Slowly beat in the olive oil a few drops at a time in the beginning, then slowly begin adding what remains of the one-half cup of olive oil and the one-half cup canola oil in a thin stream while beating the entire time. Beat in the one-quarter teaspoon Aleppo chile. Set aside the finished mayonnaise until you are ready to put the salad together. Heat a grill pan over high heat and grill the tuna for 2 to 3 minutes. The center should be slightly pink. Let the tuna cool slightly before cutting the tuna into one-half-inch cubes. In a large bowl, mix the green onions, chopped Moroccan black olives, the tuna and enough mayonnaise to moisten the salad. Stir in the avocado just before serving. Divide the tuna mixture onto a toasted baguette. Top each with about 1 tablespoon of microgreens and a slice of boiled egg. Sprinkle a little fleur de sel and Aleppo chile over the egg.
Open-faced Manchego cheese and fig sandwich
1/4 cup sweet white wine
6 black mission figs, cut in half
4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
6 cups sliced onions, 1/4-inch thick
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
1 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
4 slices organic multi-grain bread, toasted
3 ounces shaved manchego cheese
Fleur de sel
In a small saucepan, heat the wine to warm and pour it over the fig halves in a bowl. Let the figs stand 30 minutes to marinate. In a large heavy skillet over medium heat, add 2 tablespoons of the olive oil. Add the sliced onions, then stir in sugar, thyme, salt and pepper. Reduce the heat to low, cover and slowly cook until the onions are golden brown, 35 to 45 minutes, stirring occasionally. Keep the onions warm. Brush both sides of the bread slices with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil. Grill until lightly toasted, about 1 to 2 minutes, then turn and toast 1 to 2 minutes on the other side. Keep warm. Drain the figs and place them on a paper towel. Brush the cut side of the figs with the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil and put the figs cut-side down on a heated grill pan; cook 2 to 3 minutes until lightly browned. Turn the figs and grill another 2 to 3 minutes until the figs are tender yet retain their shape. Divide the warm caramelized onions onto toasted bread slices on a baking sheet. Top with shavings of manchego. Put the sandwiches under the broiler just until the cheese begins to melt, 1 to 2 minutes. Top each sandwich with three fig halves and a sprinkle of fleur de sel on each fig.