The last day that Michael and were in Paris, we had lunch, as we often do, at the Bar de la Croix Rouge, and I had what I always have, the Saint-Germain. Sometimes I’ll have it with a glass of red wine, sometimes with rosé, but while I switch up the wine, the Croix Rouge never – never, ever – switches up the Saint-Germain. It’s their signature and it would be foolish to mess with a crowd pleaser (as we’ve already decided).
HERE'S WHAT IT IS: A slice of country bread – at Croix Rouge, they wisely build the dish on a slab of bread from the Poilâne bakery, which is just around the corner from the café; a slick of mayonnaise; a smattering of sliced cornichons; and one or two slices of very rare roast beef cut so thin that you could read the New York Times through them if you had to. Once assembled, the sandwich is cut crosswise into fingers. The Saint-Germain is presented on a plate with more slices of the pickles, a few ribbons of lettuce and a slice of tomato, probably there for color, but really not needed. It’s served with a knife and fork, both of which are useful and neither of which seems to be used consistently. At some point, almost everyone picks up at least one piece with their fingers – treating it like, well, a sandwich.
THE OFFICIAL NAME for this type of French open-faced sandwich is tartine (tar-teen). As a verb, tartiner (tar-tee-nay), means to spread. As a noun, it can be your breakfast bread spread with butter and jam or even a hunk of baguette with butter. It can be as slim as the roast beef Saint-Germain or as chunky as an avocado toast, which, though it might be the pride of California and Australia, could rightly be called a tartine.
There are recipes for tartines (scroll down for one), but the point of a tartine, like more traditional sandwiches, is that it’s a template, a very accepting one. You can make something sophisticated – technically, a slice of buttered toast (consider brioche) topped with caviar is a tartine (a luxe and luscious one). Actually, thinking back to the remarkable dinner we had at Twenty-Two Club, I’d call the elegant sourdough “tostada” with goat cheese a tartine.
Or you can go dead simple and do what the famous Paris café, La Palette, does – generously butter a slice of country bread, lay on a slice of Gruyère, cut the bread into fingers, stack them Jenga-style and serve as a snack with wine in the afternoon.
There are only two or three basic elements to a tartine:
While you can use any bread from a bagel to a pita, the traditional bread for a French tartine is a large center slice from a rough rustic bread – a big round miche, a country or a peasant loaf. If there’s an artisan baker in your neighborhood, choose one of her or his breads. But if all you can find is a peasant loaf from the supermarket, grab it. Not surprisingly, you’ll want to match your bread to whatever you’re using as a topping. Strong flavored or rough textured foods go better with a country bread; delicate spreads are more compatible with softer breads. The bread is usually lightly toasted or grilled – some tartine-makers say you should only toast one side (the side that you’ll be layering), but I’m not convinced.
It’s not necessary to spread the bread with something before topping it, but it’s another chance to add another flavor. Butter or mayo or mustard or olive oil is the usual, but depending on what you’re crowning the tartine with, you might want something a little spicy, cheesy, citrusy or savory. At the Croix Rouge, their second most popular tartine is the Novégienne – the star is smoked salmon and the schmear is butter. The New Yorker in me thinks it’s good but could be better with scallion cream cheese (preferably from Russ & Daughters on the Manhattan’s Lower East Side – shhh). For some tartines, this schmear might be the whole deal. Toast and pimento cheese – done. Toast and salmon rillettes – done. Toast and guacamole – done, or almost done: I’m thinking crushed tortilla chips could be fun.
Here’s where you get to play – anything can be a tartine topping. Just about anything you’d put in a salad bowl, or in a two-slice sandwich or on top of a pizza or even a Ritz cracker can be a topper for a tartine. You can make the topping warm – grilled cheese, scrambled eggs, some sauteed mushrooms with garlic and fresh herbs, ratatouille or chunky tomatoes (like a classic bruschetta, tartine’s Italian cousin), perhaps with anchovies, for instance. It can be a tuna salad, smashed sardines with some pickled onions on top, a slab of foie gras with cracked black pepper or just plain liverwurst, again for instance. Anything from the deli, the roast beef for the Saint-Germain, ham with or without the Swiss or a version of a tartine I had a couple times a week when it was on the menu at the Chai de l’Abbaye, the café that was down the street from my apartment when I lived near rue Buci: Warm toasted rustic bread with butter that melted into it, a wafer-thin slice of air-dried beef (they used to serve viande de Grisons from Switzerland, but bresaola or prosciutto is great too), a drizzle of olive oil and a scattering of toasted walnut pieces.
To get you started on the tartine trail, scroll down for the recipe for my Eggplant and Ginger Tartine – it’s a little plain and a little fancy. If you make a tartine, any tartine, tell us all. Please.
If you love the idea, but you're not ready to commit to roasting the eggplant and making the baba ganoush - buy some! If you like the way it tastes, great - you're done. If you want to play - add the ginger and anything else that strikes your fancy. Remember, a tartine is a template - you get to decide what to do with it.
A WORD ON THE SLICING AND CHOPPING: When it comes to the ginger, don’t be dainty — it’s nice to coarsely chop the ginger, to have it be more chunky than fine. If you have a slicer such as a Benriner, use it for the pears and radishes.
You can make the spread up to 3 days in advance and keep it covered in the refrigerator. You can cut the pear and sprinkle the slices with lemon juice a couple of hours ahead, and you can slice the radishes and keep them in cold water (drain and pat dry before using); store both the pear and the radishes in the fridge.
FOR THE EGGPLANT SPREAD
2 eggplants (total weight about 3 1/2 pounds; 1 1/2 kg)
1/4 cup (60 ml) tahini (stirred well before measuring)
2 tablespoons pomegranate molasses
4 scallions, white and light green parts only, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro and/or mint
1 to 2 tablespoons chopped peeled fresh ginger (to taste; see headnote)
1/2 teaspoon ground sumac (optional)
Pinch or two Aleppo pepper, cayenne pepper or crushed red pepper flakes
Fine sea salt
FOR THE TARTINES
4 large slices country bread (toasted if you’d like)
Fine sea salt and freshly ground pepper
1 ripe pear, very thinly sliced
Freshly squeezed lemon juice
4 scallions, white and light green parts only, very thinly sliced
8 radishes, trimmed and very thinly sliced
A small handful of soft lettuce leaves or arugula
Pomegranate seeds (optional)
TO MAKE THE SPREAD: Center a rack in the oven and preheat it to 400 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with foil or parchment paper.
Rinse the eggplants and, using the tip of a small knife, prick them all over. Put them on the baking sheet and roast until they soften and collapse on themselves, 40 to 60 minutes, depending on their size. Leave them on the sheet until they’re just warm or have reached room temperature.
Cut the eggplants in half the long way; if the seeds are large, you can remove them. Scrape the flesh into a bowl and mash it with a fork or snip it with scissors — you’ll have about 2 cups of pulp. (If it looks watery, you might want to spoon it into a strainer and let the excess liquid drain off.) Blend in the tahini and pomegranate molasses, followed by the scallions, cilantro and/or mint, ginger and sumac, if you’re using it. Grate the zest of the lemon into the bowl and then squeeze in the juice from about half of it. Add the pepper, a couple of shakes of hot sauce and some salt. Stir everything around and then taste — my guess is that you’ll want more lemon juice, but you might want more of other things as well, so tinker. (You can use the spread now or refrigerate it for up to 3 days.)
TO MAKE THE TARTINES:Lay out the slices of bread. Brush the top of each one lightly with olive oil and sea- son with salt and pepper. Pave the slices of bread with overlapping slices of pear, then sprinkle with lemon juice to keep the fruit from darkening. Spread a thick layer of eggplant over the pears and finish by scattering over the scallions, radishes, greens and pomegranate seeds, if you’re using them. Sprinkle with salt.
To serve, cut the tartines into finger-food-sized strips or, if they’re meant for sit-down eating, serve with forks and sharp knives.
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You mean the eggplant spread, right? I've never frozen it. I think that you can freeze it (I've never done this), but I think that you run the risk of having a bit of separation. My guess is that the taste will still be great, but that the texture migh…