Sandwich ingredients: ciabatta roll, hot-smoked salmon, red bell pepper, Västerbotten cheese, mâche, cornichons.
Dressing ingredients: olive oil, white wine vinegar, mustard, honey, shallot, thyme, oregano, basil, black pepper, salt.
When I had a job in downtown Philadelphia a few years ago, I loved stopping by DiBruno Bros after work. They’re an Italian fine-foods store, with an extensive cheese selection and all kinds of other culinary goodies. I wasn’t making enough money to justify buying anything there, but gazing/sniffing was free! Then one day a coworker tipped me off to a brilliant tactic: show up after 5pm and steal a sandwich for half price. Done and *haumph* done.
My favorite DiBruno Bros sandwich was humbly titled Ham & Cheese. It was, of course, so much more than that. Layered between two triangular halves of a rosemary-kissed ciabatta bun were thin shavings of Parma ham, sharp aged provolone, roasted red bell peppers, field greens, Italian dressing, and curious little pickles that looked like baby cucumbers. As these pickles were the best or at least the most distinctive part of the sandwich, I asked the guy behind the counter what they were called.
“Cornichons. French. Eat ’em all over Europe.”
So, that’s the story of how I moved here! Well, no, it isn’t. But it is the story of how I came to appreciate a really tasty pickle. Cornichons are made from unripe gherkins, which are related to cucumbers but are much smaller and bumpier. As a result, they are crisper too. Flavor varies by recipe, but cornichons are typically tart and garlicky, with a hint of dill and/or clove.
I decided, upon sampling a particularly good jar of cornichons, to attempt a recreation of that wonderful half-price sandwich from long ago.
Instead of ham, which I no longer eat, I used Swedish hot-smoked salmon. The salmon is not actually hot. Rather, it is fully cooked (and richly flavored) by heated smoke, as opposed to cold-smoked salmon, which is cured raw with unheated smoke.
Instead of sharp provolone (a South Philly specialty), I used Västerbotten cheese (a North Sweden specialty), which I find to be texturally similar. It’s semi-hard and crumbly, but with enough moisture to support thin slices. Västerbotten tastes somewhere between aged Cheddar and young Parmesan.
Roasting and peeling bell peppers isn’t exactly difficult, but it does require foresight. Unfortunately, sandwich and foresight don’t jibe too well; sandwich pairs better with impulse. I forced myself to make the peppers ahead of time on this occasion, though. I don’t think I would have made the effort if not for this blog. So, thanks everyone!
The sandwich came together really nicely. Crusty ciabatta, tangy homemade dressing, gentle mâche lettuce (find some if you’ve never tried it), plus the aforementioned pickles, salmon, cheese, and roasted pepper. Next time I make this, however, I will be sure to add the ultimate finishing touch: wrap the sandwich up in butcher paper, then wait until after 5pm to eat it.