Making the Perfect BLT With Local Tomatoes in Connecticut

With the first bite of my lunch salad, I let out an involuntary “ahh” of pleasure. I only realized this after seeing the others at the table giving me weird looks. “First tomato of the season,” I say. They all nodded knowingly and returned to their meals.

Tomato season always seems a long way off, but when it finally arrives, time seems to speed up. It’s over before you know it. This is perhaps what Einstein meant in his theory of relativity.

By tomatoes, I mean local, field-ripened tomatoes. There has been a revival of tomato cultivation starting with the revival of old varieties. Smooth or bumpy; red, yellow, purple or even striped; wide or small; tomatoes branched out. There’s always a place in my heart for the ubiquitous Big Boy, but the wider range of tomato colors and flavors makes the season all the more exciting.

I’ve always thought BLT is the most demanding on a tomato. Yes, they are excellent, just sliced ​​with a little salt and olive oil. Mozzarella or burrata can enhance the experience. I like a little blue cheese to add salt and flavor. Chunks in a salad or chopped for a gazpacho, the fresh, ripe flavor of the tomatoes shines through.

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

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

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

If you’re on the mailing list of a good smokehouse like Nodine’s in Goshen, Connecticut, get yourself a pound of their smokeiest bacon. Otherwise, I use Northwoods brand bacon, fruitwood or apple smoked. The salty slices cook crispy with brown edges and lots of flavor.

Bread, usually white, is key. Wave Hill Breads in Norwalk makes a tasty natural buttermilk white loaf that is a lunchtime favorite in our house. Their Honey Whole Wheat works just as well. Wave Hill can be found at most farmers’ markets in the area or visit the bakery, at 30 High St. The bread should be lightly toasted to prevent the sandwich from becoming soggy.

Mayonnaise is the secret ingredient of a BLT. As far as I’m concerned, you can’t make one without it. (No one said a BLT would be low in calories.) If you have a Southern connection, get some Duke Mayonnaise, 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 mayonnaise. It’s not, but homemade is an interesting skill to develop. With a little practice, it’s not too difficult to make a flavorful batch to your liking.

During the summer, I like to keep pesto on hand. Stir in a dollop of mayonnaise for a stealth flavor ingredient to up your BLT game.

For sides, I like a sweet pickle and aged cheese like sharp cheddar, aged gouda, or gruyere. Crisps complete the menu.

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

Frank Whitman can be contacted at [email protected]

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