First things first
Good technique: Rustic bread, sweet caramel, fresh ricotta and a shake of the Japanese red peppers make for a memorable sandwich. (Bill Hogan/Chicago Tribune)
I had just finished an elaborate New York City lunch. I had a train to catch. It didn't seem the time to take on a tartine, even a lovely one lounging on rustic whole wheat. The sandwich, all open-faced innocence and creamy ricotta, didn't look as if it would take lightly to travel.
Because that sandwich haunted me. Back home, I thought about it. Was its whole-wheat slab soft or crisp? Was its ricotta plain or spiced? Were those roasted greens garlic-spiked? And that streak of caramel! Daring.
Finally I tracked down the tartine's creator, New York bakery genius Maury Rubin. He explained his tartine technique, which is more of an approach than a recipe: good bread, sweet caramel, fresh ricotta and a shake of the Japanese red peppers called shichimi. Apparently, I'd daydreamed the greens.
I tried Rubin's recipe (which he credits to City Bakery savory chef Ilene Rosen). I decided I preferred the bread pan-crisped and the ricotta spread thin. I moved the caramel from the bottom to the top. And reinstalled my imaginary garlic-spiked greens.
It was a good lesson in the mechanics of sandwich building. And in the importance of knowing what's important.
Rustic whole wheat country bread, sliced
Whole-milk ricotta cheese
Roasted broccolini, see recipe
Shichimi red pepper mix, see note
Caramel sauce (homemade or purchased), optional
1. Heat a thin layer of olive oil and a pinch of salt in a heavy skillet over medium-high heat.
2. For each tartine, sizzle 1 slice of bread in the oil until golden brown, about 1 minute per side.
3. Settle on a plate. Spread with a thin layer of ricotta.
4. Scatter on roasted broccolini.
5. Shake on a little shichimi. If you like, drizzle with a spoonful of caramel. Enjoy warm.
1. Slice 1 bunch broccolini into bite-size pieces.
2. Toss with 2 tablespoons olive oil and 1 clove chopped garlic.
3. Season with coarse salt and freshly ground pepper.
4. Spread out on a parchment-lined, rimmed baking sheet.
5. Slide into a 425-degree oven and roast until deliciously browned, about 8 minutes.
5. Toss with 1 teaspoon lemon juice.
Note: Shichimi togarashi (aka simply shichimi) is a Japanese blend of red pepper, orange peel and other spices, available in the Asian foods aisle. If you don't have any handy, a pinch of red or black pepper will do.
Provenance: Inspired by Birdbath Bakery in New York City.