At this particular moment in the season, the juicy, heirloom tomatoes are at their peak in the gardens of Wine Country, ripening to perfection and begging to be transformed into the sweet, fleeting dishes of late summer.
Now is the best time to make a BLT sandwich, that simple, yet well-balanced classic that offers an alluring blend of fat and smoke, sweetness and salt, blended seamlessly together against the satisfying crunch of crisp lettuce and lightly toasted sourdough.
The intense harmony of the sandwich is like a siren song, calling to us with all of the flavors and smells we love best.
While the bread in the BLT sandwich provides the middle note, the bacon’s fat and salt bring out the bass notes and the bright acidity of the tomatoes sing the treble notes, said Josh Silvers, chef/owner of Jackson’s Bar and Oven in Santa Rosa.
“Cooking is a lot about jazz,” he said. “If you just have the bass note and the bread, without the treble of the tomatoes, it sounds like spa music.”
But not everyone wants to eat bread anymore — hello gluten-free people — and for some folks, a sandwich for dinner just doesn’t cut it.
As a chef with an affinity for improvisation, Silvers was able to riff off of the BLT theme and come up with a few culinary variations on the BLT that are just as delicious as the beloved original.
And, if you want, you could serve all three of his variations as a special dinner menu, starting the feast with his BLT Flatbread, lightening up with his BLT Salad with Buttermilk Avocado Dressing, and rounding out the repast with his BLT Pasta.
Since all of these dishes are simple, the most difficult work is in sourcing the best and freshest ingredients, from heirloom tomatoes to the artisanal bacon smoked with applewood.
You can even try different kinds of bacon with each dish, to compare and contrast. Silvers suggested the bacon from Zoey’s Meats in Petaluma, Black Pig Bacon of Sebastopol and the Hobbs’ Bacon of Richmond or Zoe’s Meats of Santa Rosa.
“There is so much bacon here right now,” he said. “I like the thicker cut bacon, like the platter bacon … and I like the applewood smoked bacon.”
For the rustic flatbread, you will need to buy a ball of store-bought dough and top it with canned ground tomatoes, Lacinato (dinosaur) kale, fresh mozzarella, pecorino cheese, bacon and a thrashing of fresh basil.
The secret to this crowd-pleasing appetizer is to source high-quality ground tomatoes, which should sing with all the pure, high-pitched tomato flavor of the real thing. Either the Angela Mia or the 6-in-1 brand would fit the bill.
The BLT Salad is built on a backdrop of butter lettuce, drizzled with a ranch-style dressing, then topped with wedges of different kinds of heirloom tomatoes, cooked bacon lardons (small strips of bacon) and crunchy croutons cooked in bacon fat or olive oil.
The secret to the salad is to slice out the core of the lettuce head, then spread out the leaves so the salad retains the shape of the whole lettuce head. That makes for an attractive presentation.