First things first

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Ricotta and broccoli raab sandwich

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)

Recently a tartine smiled at me from a bakery case. I'm ashamed to say I didn't smile back.

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.

Obviously foolish. I should have run a few laps around SoHo. Or skipped the train. I should have maintained a lighter grip on my schedule and tighter grip on my priorities.

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.

Ricotta tartine

Olive oil

Coarse salt

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.

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