A quick look back at all the pandemic cooking I’ve done reveals a penchant for soup and sandwiches. Chiefly because it’s easy and economical to keep ingredients for those dishes on hand. Good-quality rolls in the freezer, sliced cheese and deli meats in the fridge. For soups, I rely on a stock of vegetables that store well such as broccoli, parsnips and squash. Dry and tinned beans and tomatoes and some frozen vegetables, such as bell peppers, add variety to my soup-making endeavors.
Hot sandwiches prove magical. Think of the Italian beef, the French croque monsieur, a Rueben or patty melt, a shrimp poor boy. Heck, even a tuna sandwich can soar when served hot under a blanket of melted cheese.
A hot sandwich, individually wrapped and tucked into a 400 degree oven, makes it ideal fare to serve at our socially distanced get-togethers. This year, we move the cars out of the heated garage, open the big door and gather on folding chairs to visit with friends. Everyone brings their own cooler of beverages and I pass the sandwiches and mugs of steaming hot soup.
The hot and spicy submarine sandwich recipe that follows reminds us of the classic New Orleans-style muffaletta we first enjoyed there at Central Grocery. Layers of deli meats with a spicy olive relish on a crusty round loaf. Memorable, indeed.
At home, we layer nearly all combinations of thinly sliced cheese and fully cooked meats on crusty small sourdough rounds or square, chewy ciabatta buns. I usually include one layer of peppered salami or spicy capicola for texture and piquancy. A quick mix of chopped olives, celery, carrots and vinaigrette re-creates the marinated olive salad that makes the sandwich so distinctive. Use a refrigerated bottled olive spread to save time, if desired.
Grainy mustard and hot chile oil stirred into mayonnaise makes a zesty sandwich spread (or, try the combination on a fish fillet destined for the broiler!). Thinly sliced and rinsed red onion, along with a piece of a roasted, bottled red bell pepper, add flavor and texture to the warmed sandwich.
Broccoli soup does not need gobs of cream or melting cheese to taste good. The recipe that follows simply tastes like highly seasoned broccoli. The broccoli stays bright green when cooked, uncovered, in water. That water, which tastes beautifully of broccoli, forms the base of the soup. For a richer soup, swap out the water with low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth. A puree of most of the cooked broccoli gives the soup body; pieces of cooked broccoli add texture.
To stick with the theme of the sandwiches, I add a small amount of Tony Chachere’s Original Creole Seasoning to the boiling broccoli. A quick look online shows us that there are many choices for a Cajun or Creole seasoning blend. I also like Louisiana Fish Fry Cajun Seasoning and McCormick’s Perfect Pinch Cajun Seasoning. Read the labels and purchase ones without artificial ingredients. Then taste a little on a spoon so you’re heat-aware before you sprinkle with abandon.
Tame the heat in the finished soup with a drizzle of olive oil or cream and some crumbled cheese. Or, swirl in some toasted pistachio or walnut oil for a restaurant-quality flourish. Perfect, even if you are dining in the garage!