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The Elizabeth David Picnic Secret

"French housewives trusted the pain bagnat to use up old bread. The name translates as ‘bathed bread.’"

Elizabeth David Summer Cooking
Elizabeth David Summer Cooking

Elizabeth David (who features in The Holiday Goddess Guide to Paris) believed in the pain bagnat for picnics. Also known as the pan bagnat or pan bagna. It comes from Nice, where you can buy it everywhere, but has become a European picnic classic.

French housewives trusted the pain bagnat to use up old bread. The name translates as ‘bathed bread.’

Use round, flat loaves rubbed with garlic, then covered in tuna, anchovies, tomato, olives, olive oil, salt and pepper. The bread can even be marinated in olive oil, then strained off (or bathed).

Summer Cooking

And why is Elizabeth David a preferred picnic source? Well, they celebrated her life at a picnic in London after she passed away. And vintage booksellers Abe Books (on Twitter @AbeBooks) reported a 1955 signed First Edition of Summer Cooking sold for US $2785.

The New York Times Version

Melissa Clark in The New York Times says, “The beauty of a pan bagnat: not only is it impressive and something different to share with fellow picnickers, it also wants to be made in advance. The longer it sits (up to 24 hours), the better it gets.”

Clark suggests adding crisp hot and sweet peppers, fennel, cucumber and scallions. Even string beans, peas and fava beans. She says the tuna itself is optional; try just anchovies and sliced hard-cooked eggs. Wild salmon or leftover cooked fish in place of tuna, which would make the sandwich even classier.

Watch the Recipe

What would Elizabeth David say? This is the New York Times video guide to the picnic classic.

Elizabeth David Picnic Ingredients

David’s legendary book, Summer Cooking, is the source for this ingredients list. The rest is up to you – beyond the round, flat loaf. Add olive oil, pitted and sliced olives, tomato, cooked or tinned artichoke, slightly cooked mushrooms, little strips of celery and anchovies.

Putting it Together

Slice the bread in half horizontally. Soak the halves in a little salted water and then in the olive oil. When the bread is ‘bathed’, place slices of tomato, small pieces of artichoke, mushrooms, celery and sliced olives. Cover these with a few of the drained anchovy fillets. Cover with the other half of the loaf of bread and put heavy weight on top for at least an hour. Slice and serve.

More on Elizabeth David

Elizabeth David CBE was an upper-class cook and author who studied art in Paris, ran off with a married man to Italy, Greece and then Egypt – where the affair ended and she ran a library instead. She was friends with Lawrence (Larry) Durrell and wrote for Harper’s Bazaar. Evelyn Waugh named her book Italian Food as one of his favourites in 1954.


Elizabeth David in VOGUE and Penguin

Soon after the publication of Summer Cooking, David moved to VOGUE and Penguin. In May 1992 David sadly passed away at her Chelsea home. That September a memorial picnic took place at the Institute of Contemporary Arts.

Prue Leith on Elizabeth David

Prue Leith and Artemis Cooper both contribute to a BBC radio program profiling David. “We used to send each other postcards of the most digusting recipes we’d read in magazines,” Leith commented. She bought her friend’s kitchen table at auction. “That’s where you had your omelette and a glass of wine,” she says.

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