Consider the sandwich.
The Cliff Huxtable hoagie. Dainty cucumber nibbles at high tea. Dagwood towers of Thanksgiving leftovers and Wonder bread. The bahn mi, the club, the Elvis. Each with its own specific architecture, its own ratios of texture and flavor layered between two slices of bread. A portable meal, self-contained and square.
Regional cooking can often be summed up by the sandwiches: is it a muffuletta or a Reuben kind of town? Are your sandwiches slathered in cheese sauce and French fries, Horseshoe-style, or stuffed with lobster meat and a slick of mayo, as in Maine? (All sorts of anthropological insights might be explored, but if I’m tucking into a airy-crisp, cornmeal battered oyster po’boy, I will be way too busy to notice. Pass the tartar sauce, please.)
If there’s such a thing as a national sandwich, though, one that has quietly thrived in the family restaurants and greasy spoons all across this great land of ours, it must be the BLT. (The almighty burger, while technically a sandwich, should be shelved in its own specific category, to my mind. Discuss.)
Bacon, Lettuce and Tomato, abbreviated in the diner patois of bouffanty kiss-my-grits waitresses and short order cooks. Three ingredients, held together by toasted white bread and a thick swipe of Hellmann’s. Uncomplicated, wholly American and quite possibly the ideal sandwich.
Last summer, at the height of the tomato season, I had an Italian-ized version of the BLT out at a local eatery. This panino had replaced bacon with pancetta (dry-cured pork belly, similar to bacon but not smoked), swapped other greens for the iceberg, and pressed the whole thing around thick slabs of gorgeous California tomatoes. The enthralling result (chewy, crispy, salty, tomato-ey) was unmistakably “BLT”, but somehow even better. A week went by and I was still mooning over this magical sandwich, leading to a bit of trial and error at home and then the final result below.
If you’ve lovingly tended tomato plants this past spring, you must save a few hefty slices for this sandwich: there’s no better showcase for your efforts. Think of the B, the L and the bread as a stage and the mayo as a spotlight: this is the tomato’s time to shine. Our markets here are spilling over with a summer’s bounty of lumpy, bumpy heirloom tomatoes, dense and sunshiny-sweet, which is what I’ve used. (I am sorely lacking in the green thumb department, as my poor houseplants can attest; I’m in utter awe of you folks who can grow their own food.)
Speaking of mayo, if you’ve never made it at home, promise me you’ll give it a try. It may sound kind of fussy, making mayonnaise from scratch, but with a food processor it’s really rather easy, and the depth of flavor is vastly superior to the pasteurized store-bought version we grew up on. If you still have green garlic at your farmer’s market, you’re in luck: add a generous 1/4 C (finely chopped) with the mustard and salt for a bright, not-too-sharp-just-right aioli. It’s heaven on this sandwich.
The mayo recipe makes quite a bit, so if you’re not the type of person who can show restraint with large quantities of creamy, calorie-dense foods in your fridge (I, alas, am not), use the leftovers to make uncommonly tasty deviled eggs or chicken salad. Ask some friends over, set out a big vase of daisies, make a pitcher of Bloody Marys, and you’ve got brunch. (Now, wasn’t that an easy party to plan? Don’t forget my invite, dears.) Order up!
inspired by Bar Bambino; serves two
- one large heirloom tomato, thickly sliced
- two handfuls of arugula
- 3 oz pancetta, thinly sliced
- one small loaf ciabatta bread (or sliced, lightly toasted country bread)
- homemade mayonnaise (recipe follows)
Place pancetta, in a single layer, on a wire cooling rack. Fit the rack over a baking sheet with sides. Put into a cold oven and set temperature to 400 degrees. Bake for 12-15 minutes (from the time you put in the pancetta) until crispy.
Cut off two sandwich-sized pieces from the ciabatta load and then cut each piece in half, lengthwise; tear out some of the loaf’s stuffing to accommodate the sandwich fillings.
Slather the ciabatta with mayo on both sides. Place arugula on top of mayo; layer half of the tomato slices on one side; season with freshly ground pepper. Layer half of the pancetta on top. Repeat with second sandwich.
adapted from Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking
- 1 egg and 2 yolks, room temperature
- ¼ tsp dry mustard (or 1 ½ tsp Dijon)
- ½ tsp salt
- 1 T fresh lemon juice, room temperature
- 2 C vegetable oil
In the food processor, combine the eggs and yolk, one minute. Add mustard and salt; process until evenly combined, 1 minute.
Remove the pusher from the feed tube of your processor’s lid. With the machine running, slowly add the oil, first in droplets and then in a very thin stream until you’ve poured in one cup (this will take several minutes). Let the sauce thicken an additional minute. (It’s working! You’re making delicious fresh mayonnaise from scratch!) Add lemon juice. Continue adding the remaining cup of oil in a very thin stream; when you’re finished with the oil, let the machine process for an extra minute.
Add salt, pepper and any additional lemon juice to taste. Holds well, covered and refrigerated, for three to four days. Yields two cups.
(Since there are raw eggs involved, use farm-fresh and be judicious with serving the mayo: no pregnant mamas-to-be, the elderly, folks with compromised immune systems or very little kids. Substitute pasteurized eggs to reduce any risk, if you’re nervous about it.)