Column: Crafting the perfect BLT with local tomatoes in Connecticut

A 'Not Bread Alone' Column

With the first bite of my lunch salad, I uttered an unintentional “ahh” of pleasure. I didn’t realize I had until after I saw the others at the table look at me funny. “First tomato of the season,” I said. They all nodded knowingly and returned to their meals. 

Tomato season always seems far off, but when it finally comes, time seems to speed up. It's over before you know it. Maybe this is what Einstein meant in his theory of relativity.

By tomatoes, I mean local, field-ripened tomatoes. There has been a renaissance of tomato culture starting with the revival of heirloom varieties. Smooth or bumpy; red, yellow, purple or even striped; large or small; tomatoes have branched out. There’s still a place in my heart for the ubiquitous Big Boy, but the wider range of tomato color and flavor makes the season more exciting. 

I’ve always felt the BLT is the highest calling for a tomato. Yes, they’re great, just sliced with a little salt and olive oil. Mozzarella or burrata can enhance the experience. I enjoy a little blue cheese to add salt and tang. Chunked in a salad or chopped for gazpacho, the fresh, ripe flavor of tomatoes shines through. 

But in the BLT, the combination of crisp lettuce, salty-smoky bacon and good bread seem to bring out the best in tomato slices. 

A BLT is not something I would usually order in a restaurant. If I was in a strongly farm-focused eatery with tomatoes out on the counter ripening at room temperature, I might take a chance. Otherwise I’d be afraid the tomato was not farm-fresh perfect. Fortunately, a BLT is easy to make at home.

Top quality components from the farmers market are essential. In August, tomatoes have pride of place in the farmer’s display, blanketing a prominent table in all their colorful glory. That same farm is likely to have some lettuce too, although the plants do “like to take a rest” in the hot weather as the farmer from Riverbank Farm told me. The hydroponic heads of Boston lettuce in the supermarket are a good substitute.

If you’re on the mailing list at a good smokehouse like Nodine’s in Goshen, Conn., get a pound of their smokiest bacon. If not, I’ve been using Northwoods brand bacon, either fruitwood or apple smoked. The salty slices cook up crisp with brown edges and plenty of flavor. 

Bread, usually white, is a key component. Wave Hill Breads in Norwalk bakes a flavorful Natural Buttermilk White sandwich loaf that is a lunchtime favorite in our house. Their Honey Whole Wheat works just as well. Wave Hill is at most area Farmers Markets or visit the bakery, at 30 High St. The bread should be lightly toasted to keep the sandwich from getting soggy.

Mayonnaise is the secret ingredient for a BLT. As far as I’m concerned, you can’t make one without it. (No one said a BLT would be low cal.) If you have a southern connection, get some Duke’s mayo, made without sugar it has a natural, tangy flavor.

Chef Jacques Pepin has a video where he shows how ridiculously easy it is to make your own mayo. It’s not, but homemade is a worthwhile skill to develop. With a little practice, it's not too hard to make a tasty batch tailored to your taste. 

During the summer, I like to keep some pesto on hand. Stir a spoonful into some mayonnaise for a stealth flavor ingredient to raise your BLT game.

For sides, I like a sweet pickle and some aged cheese like sharp cheddar, aged gouda or gruyère. Potato chips round out the menu. 

It's a good idea to cook plenty of bacon and have extra tomatoes on hand. A BLT hankering doesn't always go away after the first one. 

Frank Whitman can be reached at NotBreadAloneFW@gmail.com.