Toasted Pan Bagnat with Tomatoes, Mozzarella, and Arugula

Come tomato season, our favorite quick lunch is an open-face sandwich made from a slice of good bread toasted with melty cheese and topped with our favorite pesto, avocado, and fresh tomatoes.

But this grilled pan bagnat is cheesy tomato toast on crack. It was inspired by fellow NorCal food blogger Eileen of Ham Pie Sandwiches. Her Pan Bagnat created sheer pandemonium in our kitchen when it reminded me of one from Deborah Madison’s Local Flavors, which uses an emerald-green basil vinaigrette to dress the bread.

I mashed up the two recipes, wrapped the sandwich in foil, topped it with a couple of heavy skillets, and left it in the fridge for the requisite 24 hours. The result was pretty awesome.

Then Jay had the brilliant idea to slap that sandwich into a hot, oiled skillet, and then there was no going back. It has been a panacea of sandwiches ever since. A panini pandemic. We’ve gone through three or four of these giant-ass sandwiches in the past 2 weeks, and Jay requested that we eat nothing else ever again. (Or at least until tomatoes peter out in November.)

Tangy herb vinaigrette – a puree of garlic, mustard, red wine vinegar, basil, parsley and tons of good olive oil – coats the inside of a loaf of ciabatta (or, even better, Acme’s rosemary-laced Herb Slab). Red onion and arugula make a spicy foil to mild avocado and mozzarella, while pretty tomatoes remain the stars of the show. The whole thing gets wrapped snugly and pressed for several hours in the fridge, or up to 3 days. This makes it easier to flip, and also helps to extract the tomato juices, creating a fantastically gooey interior.

When seared in an olive oil-slicked skillet, the outside of the bread cooks to a golden crisp while the vegetables inside stay cool, not unlike a salad wrapped inside a pizza. The layer where bread meets tomato juice becomes another gooey component, melting into the soft cheese.

Eileen points out that Pan Bagnat literally translates to “bathed bread,” but the thick crust resists soaking, and a quick searing in the skillet gives the exterior the shattering crispness of a thin crust pizza.

One of these serves 4 as a meal on its own, or 6-8 with other dishes. Or you could cut it into smaller squares and serve it at a summer shindig. I’m guessing you could brush the outsides with oil and throw the whole thing on a grill, too. But do give the sandwich at least a few hours (and up to 48) in the fridge to be squished into submission.

I love having one of these in the fridge for emergency lunches. We cut off chunks to fry for a nearly instant meal. It is everything I could ever want in a tomato sandwich…

(Except for maybe bacon.)

Tomato, Tomahto:

Orzo Salad with Roasted Cherry Tomatoes and Basil Vinaigrette
Roasted Eggplant Tomato Tart
Zucchini Tomato Tart

One year ago:

Quinoa with Roasted Corn, Zucchini and Mint

Two years ago:

Ginger Pineapple Upside-Down Cake, Coconut Lemongrass Ice Cream

Three years ago:

Crispy, Clumpy Maple Almond Granola

Toasted Pan Bagnat with Basil Vinaigrette, Heirloom Tomatoes, and Mozzarella

Inspired by Local Flavors and Ham Pie Sandwiches

We like this giant sandwich best after 24 hours of pressing, when the bread has absorbed the juices from the tomatoes but the filling is still fresh. However, the un-toasted sandwich will keep in the fridge for up to three days; the filling components hold up surprisingly well. Feel free to go wild with the filling; goat cheese, grilled sweet peppers, eggplant, and zucchini would all be superb additions.

Makes 1 giant sandwich; 4 large or 8 dainty portions

The Herb Vinaigrette:
1/2 cup packed basil leaves
1/4 cup packed parsley leaves
1 large clove garlic
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 teaspoons mustard (stone-ground or dijon)
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup good olive oil

The Sandwich:
1 (1 pound) loaf Acme’s herb slab (or ciabatta)
12 ounces fresh mozzarella, drained, sliced a scant 1/4″ thick
2 large yellow tomatoes, sliced a scant 1/4″ thick
2 large red tomatoes, sliced a scant 1/4″ thick
1 – 2 ripe avocados, halved, pitted, removed from the skin with a spoon, sliced a scant 1/4″ thick
1/4 of a small red onion, thinly sliced
1 bunch (wild) arugula (about 2 cups), washed and dried, woody stems removed
olive oil

Make the vinaigrette:

In the bowl of a food processor, combine the basil, parsley, garlic, vinegar, mustard, salt and pepper. Blend to a coarse paste. With the motor running, slowly add the olive oil and blend until smooth. (You can also make this with a mortar and pestle if you prefer.)

Assemble the sandwich:

Lay the bread on a large cutting board. Use a large, sharp, serrated knife to carefully slice it in half, like cutting a cake into layers. Drizzle and spread all of the vinaigrette evenly over the two cut halves of bread.

Layer the sandwich components evenly over one half of the bread, sprinkling each layer with a bit of salt and pepper, in this order:


Drizzle a bit of olive oil over the arugula, then top with the other half of the bread.

Wrap the sandwich snugly in aluminum foil and place it on a small, rimmed baking sheet to catch any drips. Place it in the refrigerator and set something heavy on top (I use a few cast iron skillets). After an hour or two, flip the sandwich over and continue pressing it for a total of 4 – 24 hours.

Grill the sandwich:

If you have a grill or griddle large enough to accommodate the whole sandwich, leave it whole. Otherwise, unwrap it, place it on a large cutting board, and use a large chef’s or bread knife to cut it in half crosswise.

Coat a wide skillet with a thin layer of olive oil. Place it over a medium flame until the oil shimmers, then add one sandwich half. Top the sandwich with a piece of foil and place something heavy (yet heat-proof) on top of it (I use another cast iron skillet). Cook on the first side until the bread is crisp and golden, a minute or two. Flip the sandwich and heat and press it on the second side until golden and crisp, another minute or two.

Return the sandwich to the cutting board, cut into pieces, and devour immediately. Repeat with the other sandwich half (or save it in the fridge for up to 2 days to toast when ready to serve).

20 thoughts on “Toasted Pan Bagnat with Tomatoes, Mozzarella, and Arugula”

  1. Hooray for giant sandwich! We too kept ours in the fridge and just cut off hunks to eat at every meal until it was gone. I love the idea of slapping the entire sandwich on the grill and getting the mozzarella all molten. Giant panino! And what a nice shout-out–thank you!

    1. Oh, Eileen! I can't thank you enough for your wonderful recipe. I love your site and want to cook everything on it! Hope you're having a lovely day. :)

  2. Sigh…

    Still waiting on a ripe tomato to try this delicious looking picnic sandwich! I didn't check – are you veggie? My standard recipe is with tuna.

  3. No joke, I saw this recipe this morning (I have been going crazy between work and traveling back to VT from NY…so behind on my rss feed), and I knew immediately that I had to make a variation of it for a 4th of July party today! It didn't get a seriously good overnight session in the fridge, but it was still so delicious. (I used a bunch of randomness from the kitchen and garden: Greek yogurt, roasted tomatoes, basil, mozz, arugula, and garlic scape pesto.) Totally met with rave reviews at the party! I can't wait to make it again and give it a proper overnight smush in the fridge. (: The pan-searing so takes it to the next level, too. "A salad wrapped in a pizza." Love it!

  4. I LOVE sandwiches and this one looks to die for. It has all the essentials… crunchy bread, colorful vegetables, and irresistible dressing. So gorgeous!

  5. This is probably the most beautiful, mouthwatering sandwich I've ever seen!!! Love love love it!!!

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