All too often a sandwich is nothing more than a quick fix, but a little time and imagination will transform the snack.
I see no reason why, just occasionally, a sandwich can't be a flight of fancy - made to satisfy both an immediate hunger and a whim for something that is made for fun. Just because it's one of the most basic forms of sustenance doesn't mean we can't play a little. A few slices of sourdough or nutty bread toasted and topped with a pesto-dressed grilled chicken; a couple of slices of meringue held together with nuts, figs and honey; a piece of toasted brioche with a pile of strawberries and praline. These are not sandwiches that have the quality of instant gratification: they are a little more frivolous. They are snacks that have a certain luxury to them. Perhaps for when we have guests, or simply to spoil ourselves.
The savoury sandwich could well be cold, but hot seems somehow altogether more special. Perhaps potted shrimps warmed in their butter and tossed with dill; a mixture of wild mushrooms with tarragon and butter; a thin pork steak you have cooked with honey, apples and thyme. Food that you could, perhaps, eat as a main dish in its own right, but that also feels right for a top-notch snack.
Sweet sandwiches can work for afternoon tea or a dessert. They fit in particularly well with summer eating. Raspberries and strawberries and all of the currants - red, white and black - are perfect, and, a little later, we can use blackberries, too. One of my favourite sweet sandwiches has always been the simplest. A piece of soft, thick, white toast, a generous spreading of mascarpone or fromage frais, then a handful of summer fruits, often as mixture, topped with a shower of icing sugar. It is almost absurdly easy and yet feels like the most luxurious treat ever.
Fig meringue sandwich
This works as a dessert or an afternoon tea cake. It can also be served as a roulade. Simply turn the meringue out on to sugared paper, cool, pile with cream and fruit, then roll up like a great, fat Swiss roll. Makes 6 cakes.
For the meringue:
egg whites 6
caster sugar 280g
shelled hazelnuts 100g
cornflour 1 tbspFor the filling:
vanilla pod 1
honey 4 tbsp
double cream 400ml
figs 9Line a 33cm x 24cm Swiss roll tin with lightly oiled baking parchment. Set the oven at 200C/gas mark 6. To make the meringue, toast the hazelnuts in a dry pan until fragrant, then coarsely chop them. Beat the egg whites until thick and fluffy in a food processor fitted with a whisk attachment. Tip in the sugar and keep beating until glossy. Add the hazelnuts and cornflour, then tip into the lined sponge tin. Slide the meringue into the oven, turn the heat immediately down to 160C/gas mark 3 and bake for about 45 minutes until lightly crisp on top. Sugar a sheet of greaseproof paper, tip the meringue out on to it and leave to cool.
Split the vanilla pod down its length then scrape out the seeds. Whip the cream until almost thick, fold in a third of the crushed nuts and the vanilla seeds, then spread on to the meringue. Slice in half lengthways and then cut each half into six short rectangles.
Slice the figs and divide some of them between half of the meringue slices and reserve the others. Place the remaining halves on top, then decorate with the remaining figs. Warm the honey with the remaining nuts in a shallow pan. Spoon over the fig meringues and serve.
Chicken pesto toasts
I use a chicken breast for this, but you could do it equally well with chicken fillets, which are sold in packets of four or so at the supermarket.
chicken breasts 2, large
basil leaves 10, large
olive oil 5 tbsp
garlic a small clove
sourdough bread 4 slices
flaked almonds a handful
Toast the bread lightly on both sides. Slice the brie and divide between the bread, spreading it thickly over the surface.
Slice the chicken breast in half and remove the bone if there is one. Wrap in a layer of clingfilm and hit very gently with a cutlet bat or a rolling pin. They should be thin, but without any holes or tears.
Place the chicken breasts on a piece of lightly oiled foil on a baking sheet. Trickle over the dressing, scatter with flaked almonds. Cook under an overhead grill until golden. Transfer the cooked chicken to the brie toasts and serve.
Strawberry mascarpone toasts
You could also serve this in a brioche bun. Slice the top off the bun, fill with the strawberry and mascarpone mixture, then top with the brioche lid. Serves 4.
brioche 4 slices
vanilla pod 1
skinned hazelnuts 40g
caster sugar 80gLightly oil a nonstick baking sheet using a mild or flavourless oil.
Make the praline. Put the hazelnuts and the sugar into a nonstick frying pan with a couple of tablespoons of water and bring to the boil. Let them bubble until they are pale gold. Watch them carefully as the colour darkens a little, then tip on to the oiled tray. Leave to cool and crisp.
Slice the strawberries in half. Lightly whip the cream until thick, then gently fold in the mascarpone and a little of the vanilla. Roughly chop the sugared hazelnuts, then fold in half of them to the cream and mascarpone. Toast the brioche, then spread some of the mascarpone cream on each slice. Pile some of the strawberries on top and scatter with the reserved chopped sugared nuts.
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Slice of the action: Nigel Slater's fig meringue sweet sandwich recipe. Photograph: Jonathan Lovekin for the Observer