It’s a Wrap

Neat sandwiches such as wraps and pitas fill a niche in the sandwich department.

By Pamela Parseghian, Contributing Food Writer

Wraps and pita bread are like the bow ties of the sandwich world. They are neat to eat even when holding extremely moist fillings.

Tortillas “wrap all the ingredients in a tight little bundle,” says Robert Laken, chef manager for Flik International at Lowenstein Sandler, a law firm in Roseland, N.J. “When you have an attorney walk up with a beautiful tie, you don’t want to see barbecue sauce [spill] on that tie.”

Also, Laken explains, Lowenstein Sandler’s employees are often on the move, so they appreciate portable sandwiches. “We sell the daylights out of wraps.”

In addition to one daily wrap, Laken offers eight sandwich options, half of which are geared toward healthful options. Wraps also work well for catering at Lowenstein Sandler’s 20 conference rooms and meetings on campus.

“Our menu is seasonal,” Laken adds. “In the summer I may do a seared tuna steak. In the fall I do heavier items.”

Diners “love when we toast the sandwiches,” Laken says. “It really excites all the flavors in a sandwich. It has a whole new profile” when served hot.

For hot and cold sandwiches, Laken’s spread options include a housemade hummus, artichokes and olive tapenade. Chipotle spread enhances Laken’s barbecue spice-rubbed chicken pita with bacon and avocado.

Tricks of the trade: Laken says a technique he uses with pita sandwiches is to place all of the fillings on lettuce and then slip the ingredients in the bread all at once. He notes that the pita can crumble if it is not handled gingerly.

In Louisville, Ky., at Sullivan University, Executive Chef Nathan Roe finds the key to working with pita bread is starting with fresh product. Roe requests that his bread be baked daily at the school’s bakeshop, since Sullivan houses a culinary arts institution with a production classroom/bakery. If fresh-baked pita is not available, Roe orders the dough and bakes the pocket bread himself to help ensure freshness.

When it comes to tortilla wraps, Roe, a 2004 graduate of the college’s culinary school, says that tortillas work best when they are heated before use because the heat makes them easier to roll.

“Just warm them up in a steamer for 15 to 20 seconds or let them come up to about 100°F in a hot box,” Roe suggests. “This will make the tortillas more pliable and not crack or break when rolling.” Roe’s top-selling wrap is a chicken fajita wrap with crisp tortilla chips, corn and black bean salsa.

Craving creativity: Pita pizzas are “definitely what the students love” most, Roe says. He makes a pita pizza by using fresh mozzarella, marinara sauce, sliced banana peppers, pepperoni, sausage and a garlic butter topping. Roe says this is the most popular pocket sandwich at Sullivan.

Roe is on a mission to do more than just feed diners; he also wants to expose the students to good cooking and foods that they may not have tasted in the past.

“We strive to make extremely nice food that is within our price range and so the culinary students can learn new things,” Roe says. “Even though we aren’t instructors, we try to open up the students’ minds to new types of food and have things they may not have experienced before.

“Because we’re in the middle of the country and a lot of our students come from around Kentucky, a lot of them have not had experiences with seafood,” Roe explains. “So we try to do exciting dishes with mussels, clams and calamari.”

Roe menus a cold salmon wrap to help expand students’ culinary horizons, because he says many of his students don’t eat the fish cold. A bourbon glaze adds extra sweetness to the salmon.

Also in the sweet department, Roe prepares a mini dessert pita filled with fruit salad bound with yogurt and flavored with honey. The pita also is served cold.

For a savory vegetarian option, Roe offers an apple, wine-poached pear wrap with caramelized onions and cheddar cheese that’s dished up warm. A whole-wheat wrap encases the filling, and a balsamic reduction is drizzled on top. Roe says the sticky balsamic reduction helps seal the wrap and keeps it closed. He also suggests tightly wrapping the filling for best results.

Catering to the crowd: In suburban Houston, at the Spring Independent School District, Assistant Director Laura Mason says she tries to offer foods that also are popular outside of the school setting, like in restaurants. She says wraps can sometimes fit the bill. “Students are real familiar with tortillas, especially in this part of the country,” Mason says.

Mason attempts to make the district’s wraps as healthful as possible. For instance, she uses a low-fat cheese in a club wrap. The cheese is rolled with turkey, turkey ham and turkey bacon. Students can select from ranch, mustard and light mayonnaise to dip or spread on the sandwich.

Gorditas are another kid favorite at Spring. For this wrap Mason uses a whole-wheat “loco” bread. She says the 8-inch gordita is a little thicker than a tortilla, similar to a flatbread. She tops the gordita with heated pork or chicken fajita that she purchases premade. The spiced fajita meat is layered with shredded American cheese, salsa and sour cream. The gordita is then folded and served warm.

At Atria’s Campana Del Rio, a senior living facility in Tucson, Ariz., Kirk Brooks, director of culinary services, serves chicken salad wraps, classic gyros in pita and chicken shawarma pitas.

“I can’t go too wild here,” Brooks says, “as we have an older generation to serve.”

“Wraps continue to be popular with our customers,” says Jeffrey Perry, a regional chef with Sodexo B&I accounts in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and North Carolina. Perry finds that diners appreciate a variety of flavored wraps, with a spinach version being the most popular. “People see the green and they gravitate toward it,” he notes.

Sodexo chefs also use tomato and pepper jack tortillas, in addition to the standard white and whole-wheat varieties. “Tortillas are easy to use,” Perry says. “You can do a chopped salad and put it in a wrap. If you put that chopped salad in a roll, it will fall out.” 

Liking Laffa

Crêpe-like wrap taken into the fold at Restaurant Associates.

About a year ago Restaurant Associates’ supervising chef, Steve Santangelo, and a team of R&D chefs launched a successful wrap sandwich program named Laffa. The wraps gained ground mostly at the company’s B&I accounts, such as the corporate dining rooms at The New York Times, Citigroup and Credit Suisse in New York City, where RA is based.
Santangelo says laffa, a Middle Eastern flatbread, is like a very flexible pita similar to lavash.

The rendition that Santangelo purchases is thinner than lavash—about the thickness of a crêpe—and yet it can be pulled apart into two pieces like a pita. Each laffa produces two wraps. Laffa come in whole-wheat and white-flour options. They are about 12 inches by 10 inches in size.

“Laffa is very foldable and pliable,” Santangelo explains. “We use that instead of using [tortilla] wraps. When you heat [laffa] up it gets a nice crispy crust.”

Once filled and folded, the sandwiches are about 1½ inches in diameter and 8 inches long. The chefs heat the laffa on a sandwich press as customers order them.

Santangelo says that even though the laffa sandwiches are more expensive than a typical cold sandwich, the option is a hit with customers.

“The laffa increases the covers on the sandwich station and it’s a quicker serve than some other hot lunch items that RA serves,” he explains.

Filling a need: Laffas can be filled with a variety of foods, from high-end to comfort and vegetarian. They can also be prepared to order with numerous combinations, so the dish appeals to customers with dietary concerns and particular preferences.

A popular laffa choice is curry shrimp with scallions and lime, Santangelo says. Grilled skirt and flank steak also sell well.

For grilled chicken, a lemon-chive marinade is among the choices RA offers its chefs, who have the flexibility to choose options depending on clients’ tastes. For vegetarians, firm tofu can be flavored with a spicy pepper harissa and oil-based marinade.

RA’s spread choices for laffa include hummus, eggplant and roasted pepper. Toppings depend on the protein picked, but they range from pickled beets, crispy fennel, julienned cucumbers and peppers, and standards such as lettuce and tomato.

All laffa options are accompanied with house-fried potato chips. For the side, russets are sliced thin, fried and then seasoned with Cajun spices, chervil or Parmesan cheese.


Peanut Butter Spinners

Helen Wechsler, director of Boston College Dining, says her department created Peanut Butter Spinner about seven years ago as part of an all-peanut butter sandwich concept. The peanut butter concept didn’t stick, but the Spinner wrap continues to wind its way into students’ hearts.

“Our most unusual wrap is our Peanut Butter Spinner. We call it a Spinner because when you cut it open it looks like a pinwheel. It consists of a locally produced all-natural peanut butter, local honey, strawberry jam, a whole banana [cut in quarters lengthwise] and some granola all wrapped up in a 12-inch plain wrap. We steam the wrap before we make it and add granola for great texture and crunch.

The Spinner is a holdover from a sandwich concept we used to do that was all peanut butter sandwiches. The concept died, but the Spinner was so popular it went into our grab-and-go rotation at ‘Wrapsody,’ a concept for our lunch daypart that is in three locations on campus. We sell about 200 Spinners a day in one location.” 

Peanut Butter Spinner

One serving

1 12-in. flour tortilla wrap
2 oz. peanut butter
11⁄2 oz. strawberry preserves
4 oz. banana
1 oz. honey
1 oz. low-fat granola

  1.  Lay out tortilla. Spread peanut butter and jam on bottom third of wrap.
  2. Peel banana, slice in half lengthwise, then again in quarters lengthwise. Place on tortilla. Drizzle honey over banana and add granola.
  3. Roll up tightly and chill for half an hour.