I’ve never been much for sloppy Joes, despite my name. It’s not because they’re sloppy; some of the best sandwiches are. The problem is that they’re one-note: no layers of texture or flavor, just a soft bun and equally soft, rich, runny filling.
As someone with a big appetite, though, I appreciate the goal promoted by the old Hunt’s slogan for canned sloppy Joe sauce. Remember it? “A sandwich is a sandwich, but a Manwich is a meal.” And now that my mornings are spent doing so much physical work, by the time lunch rolls around, I’m hungry for a Manwich of my own making.
On each side of the noon hour my activities could hardly be more different. Most mornings, I’m working outside around my sister and brother-in-law’s homestead in southern Maine: hauling manure in a wheelbarrow, pushing stone dust through a sieve, inspecting squash plants for beetles and stink bugs and their eggs, picking paths and vegetable beds free of weeds. Most afternoons, I’m sequestered in my little third-floor room, pecking away at the keyboard as I face a cookbook deadline and work on other freelance projects while the trees rustle in the wind outside my windows.
These days begin a good three hours earlier than when I was in Washington, so by 11:30 I’m as ravenous as a bug crawling up the stem of a pattypan. And I can’t walk a few blocks to grab a lobster roll or Cubano.
So I cook lunch, often just for myself, because I’m too “hangry” (my term for hungry-angry) to wait for Peter or Rebekah to come in from the garden. But “cook” might be an exaggeration. More often than not during the hot days of summer — not nearly as hot in Maine as Washington, of course — I tend to scrounge up what I can and layer it between slices of bread. When I’m feeling particularly ambitious, I’ll grill it.
I’ve made it something of a personal mission to come up with sandwich combinations that use just a few perfectly matched ingredients: usually cheese plus things that are rich, tangy, soft and crunchy. The Grilled King Oyster Mushroom and Poblano Sandwich that I spiked with a pickle a couple months back qualifies, as does the Smoked Trout, Green Apple and Gouda Sandwich, a popular recipe from my last cookbook.
This time around, I hit on one idea after blending store-bought spicy kimchi with egg yolks for a take on deviled eggs. I thought of pimento cheese, the so-called pâtéof the South, and immediately imagined kimchi, one of my favorite pantry staples, in place of the peppers. Rather than blend the two together, I thought I’d layer the kimchi and cheddar on the sandwich separately and call it Grilled Kimcheese. That is, if I liked it as much as I thought I might. Which I did.
Another idea came in my e-mail inbox when former Food staffer Jane Black raved about a sandwich she’d had at 606 R&D in Brooklyn: “It’s a sandwich that makes me like zucchini,” she said. Besides the thin slices of that ubiquitous summer vegetable, she told me, there were a few radicchio leaves for crunch and bitterness, a splash of lemon, a little olive oil and the star ingredient: a thick slathering of high-quality ricotta. That’s another thing I usually keep in the fridge, either my own homemade version or a fabulous, fresh batch I buy at one of the area farmers markets.
I fussed with it a little, toasting the bread on one side and layering the sandwich with toasted sides facing inward (something I learned from Tom Colicchio and Sisha Ortuzar’s 2009 book, “ ’wichcraft”), drizzling a little honey on the ricotta as well.
You can’t exactly call it cooking, but in the middle of July after hours of homestead chores, it is about as much work as I have left in me. It’s even a little sloppy. Best of all, it’s filling enough to prepare me for something else that often takes place between my mornings outside and my afternoons in front of the computer: a power nap.