Bright red vine-ripened tomatoes piled high in their luscious glory herald some of the best eating of the season.
In August farm bounty is displayed at the markets and farm stands throughout our region. Squash, melons, and corn overflow, seeming to jump into my market basket on their own.
It’s the tomatoes — red or yellow, big-boy or heirloom — that I buy with abandon. Sliced with either mayonnaise or a vinaigrette, paired with fresh mozzarella or creamy burrata, chunked in salads or baked in tarts, I can’t get enough.
But, what I pine away for all year is a juicy BLT.
The combination of sweet-tart tomatoes, smokey bacon, and crisp lettuce — stacked on toasted mayonnaise-smeared white bread — can’t be beat. The best examples require several napkins and are best eaten among friends. It’s a messy business.
Simple is best as long as the ingredients are at their peak — local, fresh, ripe, and top quality. You don’t have to go crazy with exotics. The BLT is at the top of the everyday food chain, and it’s all about the blend of flavor and texture.
A few add-ons are pretty common. Slices of ripe avocado, sometimes called the ABLT, bring a lot to the party. Basil and tomato are a natural pair. The mayo can be flavored with some pesto or you can just sprinkle some sliced leaves on the tomatoes. Sharp cheddar cheese is good in the sandwich or on the side.
If you want to take things to the next level with some high-end ingredients, there are lots of options.
John Barricelli owner, and head baker at SoNo Baking Company, shared his BLT bread favorites — sunflower flaxseed or traditional whole wheat sourdough.
Master baker Tim Topi at Wave Hill Breads bakes a tasty honey whole wheat loaf that has been the foundation for some excellent BLTs at our house.
At any farmers market or roadside produce stand, there’s likely to be lots of choice for tomatoes: red or less-acidic yellow; large or small; heirloom or everyday. I like to try several options during the short tomato season. Each year offers up a different favorite.
Iceberg may be the go-to lettuce for sandwiches, but some red or green leaf works too. A more delicate boston or butter lettuce is what I like to use. A handful of baby arugula adds some peppery zing.
At the Smokehouse of the Catskills in Saugerties, NY master smoker Mike Ferraro produces several types of bacon. When I asked him his preference he smiled and said, “I just had a BLT the other day. Double-smoked adds more smokehouse flavor.”
I like the sharp tang of aged cheese. It’s always complimentary to both tomatoes and bacon. Ken Skovron, owner and cheesemonger at the Darien Cheese agrees. He recommends three-year aged Shelburne Farm Raw-Milk Cheddar from Vermont. “The flavors are bold and rich with just enough sharpness and bite, but the texture is still a bit creamy,” he advised. He buys this cheese at two years old and then ages it another for maximum flavor.
Make homemade mayonnaise if you must. It’s worth the effort at least once a season. A chipotle mayonnaise adds some heat.
If you’re watching your carbs eliminate the bread for a BLT salad. Chop the lettuce and toss it with a mustard vinaigrette. Lay the sliced tomato across the top. This is the place for a dollop of basil-mayo, if you’re indulging, then top with a rasher of bacon. Don’t stint here! You’ve already given up the bread.
In this socially-distanced time, it’s hard to gather and share a meal, but if you can, a BLT buffet is an easy, seasonal, and crowd-pleasing menu. The key is to offer some variety for every component: two or three types of lettuce; a platter of sliced tomatoes each with their own pedigrees; a couple kinds of bacon; some sliced artisan loaves in addition to the white bread; and a few flavored mayos. Put the toaster on the table to satisfy individual preference.
A tangy coleslaw and old-fashioned potato salad will round out the picture. Serve a crisp, flavorful low-alcohol beer like Two Roads Lil Heaven Session IPA and watch your guests be creative as they dig in. Crack open a watermelon for a fine finish.
The BLT season is short. Don’t let it pass you by! The days of perfectly ripe tomatoes will be gone seemingly in the blink of an eye.
Frank Whitman can be reached at NotBreadAloneFW@gmail.com.