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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.

The pasta, which features pancetta (bacon that’s been cured but not smoked), could not really be simpler. The aromatic sauce of olive oil and garlic, cherry tomatoes and pancetta, spinach and basil is elevated by some tasty, high-quality pecorino cheese.

To get it all started, the secret is to start both the olive oil and the garlic in a cold pan, then warm it up until the garlic begins to “bloom,” and get aromatic, but before it turns brown and bitter.

And don’t forget to save a bit of the pasta water to add to the sauce, or a splash of wine.

To cook the bacon or pancetta on the stovetop, the key is to watch it closely and when it’s done, take it out of the fat right away and drain it. The same applies when you cook bacon strips in a 350-degree oven.

“You can save the grease to cook the croutons,” he said. “Or you can cook the croutons in the oven with olive oil.”

And, if meat is not your thing, no worries. Pescatarians can add in some hot-smoked salmon from Santa Rosa Seafood, which subs in nicely the for sweet, smoky flavor of bacon.

“The olfactory gland is the most important in cooking,” he said. “When you smell that bacon, it brings you home.”


The following recipes are from Josh Silvers, chef/owner of Jackson’s Bar and Oven in Santa Rosa. To save time, purchase a premade ball of dough. He suggests using the 6-in-1 All-Purpose Ground Tomatoes in a can. Dino kale is also known as dinosaur kale and lacinato kale.

BLT Flatbread
Makes 1 to 2 servings

1 8-ounce dough ball

¼ cup ground tomato, with pinch of salt added

2-3 leaves dino kale, chiffonaded

3-4 ounces fresh mozzarella

1 ounce Pecorino cheese (or Parmesan), grated

2-3 strips bacon, par-cooked and cut into lardons

2-3 leaves basil, chiffonaded

— Extra virgin olive oil for drizzling

Preheat oven to 500 degrees.

Cook the bacon in a pan and drain immediately on paper towels.

Roll out dough into an oblong shape, about 10 inches by 4 inches.

To assemble: Spread the tomato sauce on the dough. Add the kale chiffonade and top with the mozzarella and Pecorino. Top with the bacon lardons.

Cook in a 500-degree oven on a pizza stone until done and crust is brown.

Remove from oven and top with the fresh basil. Drizzle with olive oil. Cut into squares and serve.


BLT Salad with Buttermilk Avocado Dressing
Makes 1 to 2 servings

For dressing (makes 1 quart)

1 tablespoon chopped garlic

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

4 egg yolks

2 cups buttermilk

1 avocado

1 tablespoon Chalula hot sauce

1 tablespoon Worcestershire

1 tablespoon champagne vinegar

3 lemons, juiced

— Salt and pepper to taste

¼ bunch parsley, minced

¼ bunch cilantro, minced

¼ bunch oregano, minced

4 cups blended oil (1 cup extra virgin olive oil and 3 cups canola)

For the salad

2 slices bacon, cooked and drained

1 slice sourdough, cut into cubes

1 head butter lettuce

1-2 small heirloom tomatoes, cut into wedges

— Kosher or sea salt, to taste

To make the dressing: Blend garlic, Dijon and egg yolks together in a bowl. Add buttermilk, avocado, Chalula, Worcestershire, vinegar and lemon juice. With an immersion blender or in a Vitamix, slowly add oil. Add salt and pepper to taste. Fold in minced herbs at end. Store in fridge for about a week.

For salad: Cook the bacon and drain on paper towels. Cook the croutons in the bacon fat (or toss with olive oil and cook in a 325-degree oven until brown).

Remove the core of the lettuce head and assemble on the plate to look like a full head. Drizzle dressing over the lettuce (about 3 to 4 tablespoons, to taste). Add tomato wedges, croutons and bacon. Sprinkle with salt, to taste.

Silvers suggested using the organic, dried pasta from Montebella for this dish.

Use different colors of heirloom tomatoes and a thick-cut chunk of pancetta from your butcher.


BLT Pasta
Makes 2 servings

6 ounces dried, bow-tie pasta

1 clove garlic, minced

½ tablespoons olive oil

2/3 cup cherry tomatoes, sliced in half

3 ounces pancetta, cut into lardons, cooked and drained

— Pinch of salt

2 cups baby spinach

1 ounce Parmesan, grated

— Extra virgin olive oil, to finish

Cook the pasta according to the directions on the package and save a small amount of pasta water.

Start the olive oil and garlic in a cold pan, then cook just until the garlic blooms and you can smell it, barely a minute.

Add tomatoes and pancetta and cook for one minute. Add the hot pasta into the pan and mix. Add 2 tablespoons of the pasta water (or water or wine) and a pinch of salt. Throw in the spinach and cook for 30 seconds, until wilted. Add in half the cheese and stir. Serve into bowls, top with the rest of the cheese and finish with olive oil.

You can reach Staff writer Diane Peterson at 521-5287 or diane.peterson@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @dianepete56.

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