The guy in the light blue tee shirt darted around Paesano’s with the quick assurance of a fellow who had things to do. Slipping from behind the sandwich window he wiped his hands, pirouetted on the shiny tiles, landed at the edge of our table and raised his pad. He held his pen in the air. Then with a slight dramatic exhalation of breath he let his arms sink again.
This was not going to be so easy. He could see it in our eyes.
‘That? Well, it’s meatloaf fried crispy, made up like chicken parmesan.’ He pointed down the menu. ‘And that one, it’s house-made lamb sausage with sun-dried cherries. My favorite? – this week it’s a toss-up between the beef brisket with roasted tomatoes and the eggplant with braised fennel.’
Whoa. Hold on here a minute. Crispy fried meatloaf? Sun-dried cherries? Beef brisket, eggplant and fennel? Dare I even mention the suckling pig? Paesano’s certainly wasn’t your father’s sandwich joint. The guy went off to get drinks while we took it all in.
For a native son tracing the roots of his great Philadelphia sandwich childhood, it was new territory. There we were smack dab in the middle of Little Italy eating what could only be labeled cutting edge sandwiches. Furthermore, there were big burly guys waiting around the window for their cutting edge sandwiches, too. My sandwich senses tingled, but as I looked out on the sunlight slanting over the low brick rowhouses of South Philly and bit into one pretty awesome sandwich, I felt a keen sense of release.
Back in Seattle, my mind and my taste buds kept returning to Paesano’s. Even as the dough flowed under my hands in creating the perfect Italian hoagie roll as I remembered it from my youth (see Hogeland’s Homemade Hoagie Rolls for more on that), I imagined another roll, one just a bit more robust. Ready to take on tomorrow’s sandwich.
So here it is: a slightly savory roll that’s fairly easy to make at home and as a foundation can handle any great fistful of sandwich you can come up with. Go on, take it for a spin – and let your imagination run wild. I think the guys at Paesano’s would approve.
Now about that chicken and broccoli rabe sandwich? Nope, it’s not shi shi Seattle style. It’s pure Philadelphia, adapted from Paesano’s Diavolo sandwich; I’ve just cut down on the toppings. If you’re near South 9th Street at the north end of the Italian Market, do go and try the real thing.
And if you happen to see the guy in the light blue tee shirt, thank him again for me. He’s doing a great job. Cheers!
Sesame Seeded Sandwich Rolls
Makes 8 rolls, 5 ounces each
For the rolls:
½ cup water at 100°
2¼ teaspoons instant dry yeast
15 ounces (3 cups) unbleached all-purpose flour + 5 ounces (1 cup) high gluten flour
10 ounces (2 cups) unbleached all-purpose flour + 10 ounces (2 cups) bread flour
4 teaspoons of sugar
2½ teaspoons of salt
1/8 teaspoon of ascorbic acid, or Fruit Fresh (optional)
1 cup water at 100°
1/3 cup milk, scalded and cooled
Additional flour for bench work
2 Tablespoons of sesame seeds
2 pieces of parchment paper 11”x15”
6 quarry tiles or a large pizza stone (see note below)
For each sandwich:
¼ cup salad greens
3 ounces cooked chicken breast
4 sprigs steamed broccoli rabe
1 ounce of sliced mature cheddar
Prepare yeast and milk: In a small bowl, whisk together ½ cup warm water and a packet of instant yeast. Let stand for 5 minutes, until blooms of exploding yeast rise to the surface. Meanwhile, scald 1/3 cup of milk in a small pan by bringing it to a bare simmer over medium heat and then let cool.
Make the dough: In a large bread bowl, dry mix the flour, sugar, salt and Fruit Fresh. Make a well in the center and add the yeast mixture, 1 cup of warm water and the cooled milk. Mix it all together with the handle of a wooden spoon until the flour mixture and liquids are incorporated.
Lightly flour a work surface. Using a dough scraper or spatula, lift the raw dough out of the bowl onto it and knead for just a minute to lump dough together. Invert the bowl over the dough on the counter and leave to rest for 20 minutes or a half hour. This will make kneading much easier.
Kneading and first rise: Knead the dough for 7-10 minutes until smooth and supple, adding small amounts of flour to keep it from sticking to the counter and your hands.
Clean and dry the bowl and put the dough back into it; cover and let rise for 2 hours or more at room temperature, until dough doubles in size.
Egg addition and second rise: Separate 1 egg, reserving one egg white in a small bowl to be used later. Add the egg yolk and 1 whole egg to the risen dough, mixing in ½ cup of flour to counter the stickiness (yes, it’s kinda sticky at first). Knead for a few minutes until the egg is well worked in. Clean and dry the bowl again if necessary. Put the dough back in and let it rise for a further 1½ hours at room temperature.
Shaping, coating and third rise: Divide the dough into 8 equal pieces. For accuracy, use a scale; each piece will weigh just over 5 ounces. On a lightly floured work surface, shape each roll into a 9” long snake. For best results, stretch rolls gradually over a 10-minute period in order to avoid tears in the skin.
Whisk the reserved extra egg white with 1 teaspoon cold water. Lay the parchment paper out on the backs of two cookie sheets. Put the dough snakes onto the parchment paper, 4 to a sheet and brush the tops twice with egg wash. Sprinkle with sesame seeds. Let rise in a warm humid place for 1 hour or more until doubled in size again.
Bake the rolls: In a conventional oven, fit quarry tiles or a pizza stone on the center rack and preheat oven to 425° for 30 minutes.
Slip risen rolls directly onto the quarry tiles or pizza stone on their parchment paper and, cooking 4 at a time, bake for 11 to 12 minutes until lightly browned on the top. Let cool for 30 minutes on a rack before diving in.
Repeat as necessary with the other rolls.
To make an awesome Chicken and Broccoli Rabe sandwich: Split a Sesame Seeded Sandwich Roll and layer with field greens, hot chicken breast, steamed broccoli rabe and mature cheddar. Happy noshing!
Quarry tile note: If you don’t have a pizza stone, don’t worry; the rolls will be fine, just a bit flatter. Sprinkle cornmeal or semolina onto 2 cookie sheets and put the dough snakes onto it for their last rise. Coat as directed above and bake in the oven on cookie sheets. Quarry tiles are available here in Seattle at Tile for Less.