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Since I was a kid, I’ve always been fascinated by picnics. I would see them in the Saturday morning cartoons: picnics with big, square picnic sandwiches and perfect desserts and everyone having a good time eating under the trees. Until the ants arrived. Because the ants always arrived!
Anyway, now as an adult I still love picnics, and I frequently plan them with my kids. Since we live on an island, the weather is for the most part outdoor-friendly year round. Recently, we went to one of our favorite spots, El Morro in Old San Juan, where I brought these vegetarian picnic sandwiches that were so perfect for eating al fresco. In this post, I’ll show you how to make this easy Vegetarian Mediterranean Pressed Picnic Sandwich, plus give you some tips on how to plan a fun, healthy picnic as well!
Did you know that there’s evidence that enjoying time in green spaces promotes mental health?
What is a pressed sandwich?
A pressed sandwich is a fairly simple, yet very convenient concept: You take a loaf of bread, cut it in half, fill it with ingredients, and refrigerate it overnight under something heavy in order to press it and help develop its flavors.
These sandwiches are ideal for picnics since:
- The type of bread used is thick, so they keep their consistency (ie, minimal sogginess).
- They can be prepared the night before, which not only helps the flavors develop better, but saves time as well.
- You can make them from a wide variety of foods and combinations of flavors, making great crowd pleasers.
The key to a good pressed picnic sandwich is to leave it pressed between heavy objects in the refrigerator for a couple of hours, preferably overnight. As you can see, I used a cookie sheet and put a bottle of juice for added pressure. You can use pots, gallons of water, or any other heavy object that you can store in the fridge. And of course, wrap the sandwich in parchment paper, plastic wrap or aluminum before pressing it so that the ingredients don’t spill out from the sides!
How do you keep pressed sandwiches from getting soggy?
One of the main concerns when a preparing a pressed picnic sandwich is trying to avoid the bread from getting soggy. Here are a few helpful tips on how to help your sandwich keep its shape, even when it won’t be eaten until the winner of the touch football game has been declared:
- Pick a fairly sturdy bread like ciabatta, focaccia, French or Italian, (the one I used in this recipe). This helps the sandwich hold its consistency.
- You can fill the sandwich with firm vegetables such as spinach, cabbage, peppers, pickles, grated carrots, onions, fresh basil, etc. Try to keep these as dry as possible.
- Try not to use too many delicate and juicy vegetables, such as very ripe tomatoes and iceberg lettuce, since this can make the bread go soggy.
- You can use all kinds of cheeses, such as sliced mozzarella, provolone, Swiss, Gouda or cheddar cheese, for example. Blot dry with a paper towel to get rid of excessive moisture.
- For chicken, tuna salads or cold cuts, add a layer of firm vegetables as a barrier between the bread and the meats.
- It helps to put the wettest ingredients, such as vegetables, among the driest, such as cheeses and hams, to prevent loss of consistency.
- For seasoning, try a little olive oil, vinaigrette, mustard, mayonnaise, guacamole, or pesto; just try not to moisten the bread too much.
Ideas for a fun, healthy picnic
You can have a picnic anywhere (as long as it’s a safe place, of course!). In a park, on the beach, in your backyard or even in your living room! It’s so fun, especially if you have kids, who can also enjoy being part of the preparations. And when you have a basket as cute as this one, which comes with the blanket and plenty of compliments from fellow picnic goers, you have just what you need for the perfect outing. Here are some healthy picnic ideas for your next outing:
Buy it Here: Picnic Basket
- Pack food that does not need to be kept warm, such as pressed sandwiches (obviously!), salads without mayonnaise (mason jar salads are a great option), pasta salads, wraps, whole-grain crackers with an assortment of cheeses, chopped vegetables, yogurt, and fresh fruits for dessert. Who knew healthy picnic food could taste so good?
- For thirst quenching, you can bring bottled water or fruit infused water, which has a juicier taste (plus, these infusion bottles are convenient and portable). Cold unsweetened tea, unsweetened coconut water and 100% juices are other good beverage options. These ice “pillows” are reusable and keep your drinks cold.
- Fresh fruits such as apples, bananas, mandarin oranges, peaches, plums and pears are excellent for packing in a picnic basket since they do not bruise easily. But you can also make chopped fruit jar salads as well.
- I personally always carry a foldable bag to store the used plates, containers and utensils, and another one for waste disposal.
- Don’t forget sunscreen and insect repellent!
Vegetarian pressed picnic sandwich recipe
Vegetarian Mediterranean Pressed Picnic Sandwich Recipe
- 1 18" loaf of sturdy bread such as ciabatta, French, Italian, focaccia or sourdough
- ¼ cup sun dried tomato pesto
- 6 slices mozzarella cheese
- 2 cups fresh spinach, lightly chopped
- 2 plum tomatoes, sliced
- 2 slices of canned, roasted red peppers, drained and chopped
- 2 tbsp chopped black olives
- 1 tsp olive oil
- 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
- ¼ tsp dried basil
- salt and pepper, to taste
- Cut the bread in half lengthwise
- Spread both halves of bread with sun dried tomato pesto
- Place the cheese slices on both halves . Add tomatoes, red peppers and olives
- Prepare the vinaigrette: Mix the olive oil, vinegar, basil, salt and pepper well. Coat the vegetables a little with this mixture, taking care not to add too much to prevent the bread from becoming soggy
- Join the two halves of the sandwich and wrap well in parchment paper, plastic wrap or aluminum
- Place the sandwich between two cookie sheets or other flat objects, and on top add a heavy object that distributes the weight evenly. Examples: pots; gallons of water, juice or milk; cans; etc.
- Store this in the fridge for at least 4 hours, or preferably overnight
- Pack the sandwich up nicely wrapped, and when you reach your destination, cut it into 3-inch pieces. Enjoy it with good company!
So now tell me, do you like eating outdoors? What’s your favorite picnic food? Any favorite vegetarian picnic ideas? What is your favorite place to picnic at? Do you feel inspired to plan a picnic, even if it’s just in your living room? Give me all the deets below in the comments section!
Hi! I’m Melissa, Registered Dietitian and mother of two dragons. When I’m not talking nutrition you can find me rolling around the floor with my kids, sewing, crafting, cooking or missing the 90s (seriously, music just isn’t the same). Read More…