from the garden

Getting the Best Strawberries

In the market, at pick-your-owns and in plant catalogs.

Fair warning: I’m in strawberry delirium at the moment. We (well, Bill actually) got a big bowl of them for Father’s Day from Karen, Celia’s mother, and they were the Platonic ideal: firm but tender, very juicy, flavorful, sweet, and FRAGRANT? Omigosh. They perfumed the entire kitchen all afternoon, until I made them into shortcake – a subject about which I feel strongly – recipe coming next post. Biscuits, only biscuits, do not talk to me about cake.


Karen with home-grown gift

Or don’t bother to talk about making anything. When you get strawberries this good all you need to do is eat them. The part that takes effort is acquisition.

Getting industrial strawberries is easy; like industrial tomatoes they’re available everywhere always. And all of the tomato wisdom about far tastier when fresh and local certainly applies. But with strawberries ” vine-ripened” matters far more because strawberries – unlike tomatoes – cannot continue to ripen after they leave the plant.

They do get softer as they age ( except the gigantic iron strawberries sold for chocolate-dipping). But they don’t get any sweeter or more intensely flavorful. Whatever goodness they have when they’re picked, that’s all they’ll ever have.

Yet ripe strawberries are fragile and short-lived. Result: only berries that need not travel far or change hands often can be allowed to ripen fully. And only growers who sell locally can risk growing “home garden” varieties known more for flavor than durability.

So if you crave strawberry delerium – and don’t happen to know Karen – the places to get fruit are farmers markets, pick-your-own farms, and your own back yard.


Karen got her plants from a friend and doesn’t know their name, but these look a lot like Sparkle, a home garden variety introduced in 1942 and still popular in the Northeast, the region where it does best.

At the Market: go for sprightly green calyces ( the cap of leaves at the top) and stems that are fresh-looking. Don’t be put off by small berries or berries that aren’t all the same size; many of the tastiest varieties are neither large nor uniform. Some very sweet berries are not dark red, but if they’re light it doesn’t hurt to ask for a taste. And beware of super deep color too; the berries may be so close to overripe they’ll melt before you get them home.

At Pick-your-own farms: Try to get there either at the beginning or toward the end of the day. In many places people make side money picking at these farms and selling the fruit for a small profit. They show up early; they know what they’re doing; and they’re fast. By the time they leave, a lot of the fruit that was ripe at daybreak will be leaving with them. Fortunately, they seldom come back for a second round and strawberries can ripen in a matter of hours. On hot days late afternoon can offer great picking, especially when the weather is so brutal it discourages the competition.

In the Garden: Strawberries are already among the easiest fruits to grow, and if Colony Collapse Disorder continues they’re going to be an even better bet. In contrast to most other soft fruits, strawberries don’t rely primarily on honey bees; our native wild bees pollinate a lot of them and can continue to do so – assuming, of course, our native bees are still around themselves…

A disquisition for another day. To return to our berries,

Choosing plants:

Leaving aside specialty berries like fraises des bois, there are 3 types to consider: June bearers, everbearers and day neutrals. For descriptions of individual varieties consult plant sellers like Nourse Farms and Daisy Farms.

June Bearers – might better be called “once bearers.” They make a single large crop in spring and that’s it. They’re the original “garden strawberry,” the tastiest of the large-fruited types, and the one that offers far and away the widest choice of varieties.

Everbearerstheir better name is “twice bearers,” one crop in spring and another, smaller crop in fall, with only a few berries here and there in between. Quality varies widely and is strongly climate dependant. Be sure you choose one that’s right for your region.

Day Neutrals – keep fruiting from spring to fall, with the largest and tastiest fruit often coming as the weather cools down. Berries tend to be on the small side but there are a lot when you add up a whole season’s worth.


Strawberry shortcake, made with biscuits. Recipe coming soon to a blog near you.

Asparagus Soup – and a Peony Revealed

The asparagus soup is below. But first, a word from our peony. Having extolled the early one while whining that it is very magenta and then showing nothing but a bud with an illustrative ant , it seems only fair to display a flower. Bill took this picture at my request, both because I was in Maine at the time and because he is a better photographer.

Bill Bakaitis

The ( neglected ) asparagus part.

It never fails. You read a recipe for asparagus and no matter what kind of recipe it is: steamed, grilled, stir-fried, whatever, you will be instructed to break off the tough ends and ” save them for soup.”

End of story. Nobody ever tells you how to make this kind of asparagus soup. And you know if you’ve ever tried it that soups that are not asparagus soup are not improved by having a few asparagus ends thrown in.

So. The following recipe is made – primarily – from tough asparagus ends. It’s easy, inexpensive and delicious hot or cold. Because asparagus ends are tough and stringy even after they’ve been cooked to death, you do have to use a food mill to get a velvety puree, but that’s the price of frugality. If you want to just throw it into a processor, you have to use tender asparagus (see note at end of the post).

Cream of Asparagus Soup

1 ½ pounds of asparagus ( roughly 2 bunches) is usually enough to make 4 servings of soup and 4 servings of asparagus-as-veg. , but the recipe works with whatever quantity you’ve got.


sweet onion such as Vidalia

basmati or other flavorful white rice

heavy cream, preferably not ultra pasteurized although at this point that’s wishful thinking in a lot of places

1. Break the asparagus spears where they break naturally and set the tough ends aside. Divide the tender ends into 2 piles, one a little more than twice as big as the other. Refrigerate the larger pile until you want it for vegetable purposes. Chop the smaller pile into 1 inch chunks and set aside.

2. Trim off and discard any really hard white ends of the tough ends. Chop the remainder into ½ inch chunks and measure into a large saucepan.

3. Add 1/2 cup coarsely chopped onion, 1 ½ tablespoons rice, and 2 cups water per cup of ends.

4. Cover and cook over low heat until the vegetables are soft and the rice is fully cooked, about 40 minutes. Add the chopped tender asparagus, recover the pan and cook until vegetables are very soft and the rice is a fluffy mush, about 20 minutes more.

5. Put the whole works through a food mill into a clean saucepan ( for hot soup) or a heatproof bowl (for cold). Stir in 1/3 cup cream for each cup of asparagus ends. Reheat the hot. Chill the cold. Taste. Add salt as needed. That’s it.

Bill Bakaitis

Who wants to look at a picture of a bowl of cream soup? Suffice it to say it’s celadon with darker speckles and always reminds me of this lovely image from Elizabeth David:
” … soups delicately coloured like summer dresses, coral, ivory, or pale green…”
(French Provincial Cooking, British Penguin edition 1973)

Curling of the sort in the picture is caused by damage to the spear as it was emerging from the ground. Usually , a cutworm tried and failed to sever it but sometimes you nicked it with your knife while harvesting an adjacent spear.

To make the soup using a processor or blender: Follow the proportions in the recipe, using tender asparagus uppers instead of ends. The only thing that changes is timing: Cook the onions and rice in the water for 20 minutes or so before adding the first batch of chopped asparagus. After that, it’s exactly the same except a processor is marginally easier to wash than a food mill and takes less manual effort to employ.

Tips on Choosing, Storing, Preparing and Growing Asparagus are here.

Dandelions = Delicious

Here we go again; it never fails. On the news just yesterday morning – “asparagus is the first vegetable of spring.”

NO! dammit. Dandelions are the first vegetable of spring, or rather they are the first green vegetable. Parsnips that have overwintered (” spring dugs”) are even earlier, but by spring one has had enough roots for a while no matter how sweet they may be.

What dandelions are: delicious. Tender and fresh-tasting, with a pleasantly bitter endive edge and an earthy greenness that has no analogy. They’re low in calories, high in vitamin A , lutein and beta-carotene – look out carrots, you’ve got competition – and absolutely free.

What dandelions are not: instant. On account of the picking and cleaning. But picking is pleasant, a good chance to get outside, and a great activity to share with kids; anybody over about 3 knows what a dandelion looks like. And cleaning goes fairly quickly if you use the greens washing trick that works for anything wrinkled and sandy.
Cooking takes about 5 minutes, so once you’ve got cleaned greens you’ve got fast food.


Greens must be gathered before the flower bud starts pushing up or they will be tough and unpleasantly bitter. Greens from shady places (left) are usually wider, flatter, and milder than greens grown in full sun (right)

Mediterranean Dandelions with olive oil, garlic and lemon.

Fine hot or cold as a vegetable dish, easily expanded into Dandelions with Pasta and Prosciutto, a one-dish supper for spring. Measurements are given mostly for the form of the thing. Please for the love of heaven don’t bother to follow them to the letter.

For 4 servings:

a basketball-sized heap of cleaned dandelion greens, well drained but not dried:

¼ cup olive oil

3 large cloves garlic, minced

2 tablespoons lemon juice; about half a lemon if it’s a decent lemon

salt to taste

Heat the oil in a wide sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add garlic and sizzle until pale gold. Add greens, standing back to avoid the spatter when water hits the hot oil. Stir, cover, turn heat to medium low. Cook about a minute, stir again, recover and cook 2 or 3 minutes more. As soon as they’re all wilted, they’re done.

Dandelions with Pasta and Prosciutto


For 4 servings:

6 ounces thick pasta ( about 2 ½ cups dry)

1/3 cup olive oil

4 or 5 large cloves garlic

about 2/3 cup prosciutto, cut into small dice. *

¼ cup currants

3 tablespoons lemon juice

1 batch cleaned dandelions ( see above)

lemon wedges

Hard grating cheese to accompany **

Get the pasta cooking. When it’s about half done, heat the oil in a wide skillet, sizzle the garlic and prosciutto dice until both start to brown on the edges. Stir in the currants, cover and turn off the heat.

When the pasta is barely cooked, stir the dandelions into the pasta pot. They will wilt instantly. Drain at once and return to the pot. Stir in the prosciutto mixture , taste, add salt if necessary and serve garnished with lemon wedges. Pass the cheese and a grater at the table.

* We use “prosciutto ends,” the bit at the tip that’s too small to slice neatly, chunks our local market obligingly sells at a bargain price. Failing that, start with a single thick slab roughly 1/3 inch thick or substitute some other strong-flavored ham. It won’t taste the same, but it won’t taste bad. Or switch gears completely and use toasted pine nuts instead of the meat.

** last time I made this we used Magic Mountain, a sheep cheese from Woodcock Farm, in Vermont. Parmesan is fine, but why not experiment with alternatives made closer to home? The American Cheese Society has accomplished members in almost every state.

Celebrating Squash

For a delicious, versatile, inexpensive vegetable that has “winter” right in its name, hard-shelled squash gets surprisingly little seasonal respect. Dedicated foodies who can wax eloquent over the respective merits of yellow-eye beans and Jacob’s cattle seldom discuss the much larger differences between, say, the dry-fleshed, nutty-flavored Tetsukabuto and the creamy, well-named Sweet Dumpling.


The sign-squash is a rejected pumpkin. No stem, no sale.

Think I’m exaggerating? Have a squash tasting, using at least 3 varieties and preferably 3 species. That might be delicata (Cucurbita pepo), buttercup (C. maxima ) and butternut (C. moschata), but if you range beyond the supermarket, you can probably put together a more exotic assortment. Either way, you will be amazed, and unless there are a lot of you you will also wind up with quite a bit of extra cooked squash. Terrific! Just freeze it in meal-sized packets and you’ve got a stockpile of nearly-instant great food.

When the basic ingredient is ready to roll, it’s only minutes to warming cream of squash and orange soup, with or without a sprinkle of Aleppo pepper; baked squash under a blanket of crisp crumbs flavored with olive oil and lemon zest; or utterly simple broiled squash, spread in a shallow buttered pan and broiled until the top is dotted with flavorful, caramelized brown spots. This is also tasty with store cheese grated over it at the last minute. Also salsa. Also parsley pesto… you get the drift; if you want it even sweeter, the thing to make is pie.

To Prepare Squash for a Tasting ( or almost anything else): Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Rinse any clinging dirt from the squash and whack off the stem with the back of your heavy knife. Cut squash in half as evenly as possible and scrape out the seeds. Oil the cut surfaces with olive oil and put the squash cut side down on a sheet pan or jellyroll pan. Bake until a thin-bladed knife sides in easily, anywhere from a half hour (Sweet Dumpling) to about an hour and a half ( Marina di Chioggia), depending on the thickness of the squash meat and the variety of squash. Turn it right side up and use a sharp-edged spoon to scrape the squash meat away from the rind.

Bright Salad

Our bright lights chard is still going strong in the cold room, and last time I went shopping the commercial stuff looked pretty good ( for a change), so if you have become tired of cabbage, consider

Rainbow Slaw

Every measurement in this so-called recipe is “about,” “to taste,” “use what you’ve got,” ” fiddle,” because all three of the vegetables vary enormously in sweetness and flavor-strength. Plus it would be a shame not to enjoy it just because you were almost out of celery and didn’t realize it until a half-hour before dinner.

For 6 servings

Toss 1 ½ cups each julienned celery, fennel, and rainbow chard stems with a dressing of

¼ cup rice vinegar
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
1 teaspoon sugar
½ teaspoon salt

let it sit about 5 minutes, then taste and adjust.

At this point, you’ll have a very light, clear-flavored salad that goes well with almost everything, especially winter’s rich brown braises and stews. To jazz it up, add finely-minced jalapeno and coarsely-chopped cilantro. Shreds of Peking duck from the Chinese grocery are a nice addition, if you happen to have it ( either the duck or the grocery) handy.

Rainbow (chard) Not Over Yet

At Seed Savers, it’s 5 Color Silverbeet. At Johnny’s, which got an AAS award for it in 1998, it’s Bright Lights. At our place, it’s just rainbow chard, a must-plant delight: easy to grow, easy to cook, beautiful all summer long and long into the fall.

Bill insists it’s sweeter after frost; I think he’s simply confusing it with cole crops like kale and collards, which are sweeter, because temperatures below 40 destroy sulfur compounds. Sweetened or not, rainbow is slightly less frost hardy than regular chard, so we dug it up when temperatures started going way down – way back in early November there actually were a couple of nights when it hit the mid-teens.

The plants were set upright in a big pot lined with a thick plastic bag, with no more dirt than what was left clinging to the substantial roots. The pot was stored in an unheated enclosed porch , aka our well-lit walk-in. Every once in a while, I pour some water over the bases, but not very much.

chard plant, out of pot for photographic purposes

We have been harvesting regularly, breaking off leaves as needed as though the plants were still in the ground. When all have been eaten, we’ll compost the stumps. They could be replanted in mid-spring, if we wanted to save seed, but we’re not that dedicated. (Colors cross, so the pros grow each one in isolation and mix the seeds at packaging. )

Some say the different colors taste different, a lot to assert given that the colors include pink, red, purple, magenta, orange, yellow, white, white with pink stripes and some extremely zingy mixtures of pink and tangerine. All I can say is that none of them are as good as plain old white-stemmed Lucullus. But gorgeousness counts, even if the colors don’t stand up all that well when cooked.

Cooking Swiss Chard

is sort of like cooking chickens and turkeys – it helps to remember that cooking the thing whole is likely to be unkind to one part. Instead of light and dark meat, chard has stems (petioles) and leaves.

Chard Stems appear almost celerylike, very sturdy and crisp when raw. But at least when the chard is freshly harvested, they get tender quickly and tend to end up unpleasantly flabby if cooked for more than a few minutes. Most recipes say the stems are tougher than the leaves and should be cooked longer, but when we cook the chard from the garden we add the chopped stems near the end, shortly before the leaves have cooked through.

In Europe , stems are as highly prized as the leaves and those from varieties like Blonde de Lyon and Monstruoso are frequently cooked solo. Standard advice is to cook them like asparagus , which I take to mean “like asparagus the old-fashioned way: briefly blanched, thoroughly drained, then finished with a rich sauce such as browned butter or hollandaise.” You’d think boiling would be ill-advised with something so watery, but in my experience it works as well or better than steaming and stir-frying.

The alternative, especially when you want to preserve the bright colors of Rainbow types, is not to cook the stems at all. Just slice thinly crosswise (longitudinal julienne can be stringy) and sprinkle over hot cooked greens, toss into salad or add to a slaw of fennel and celery.
Not much needs saying about the Chard Leaves, except that they’re delicious prepared any way you’d prepare spinach and most of the ways you’d prepare stronger greens like kale and broccoli raab. Also nice stuffed and stewed, just sub pairs of them for the single cabbage leaves in your favorite stuffed cabbage recipe.


So there we were at the Union Square greenmarket,

in search of interesting squash of which there turned out to be not very much, and there IT was, Romanesco! The absolutely best cauliflower in the world, if cauliflower it is. ( Some say broccoli, some say cauliflower, most in the know say they don’t know; but if you go by culinary properties, it’s cauliflower)

Photo by John Walker

Doesn’t do to go on about the holy grail or anything, but Romanesco has yet to be readily available, even in the uppermost of upscale markets, and growing it is – see below – a pain, so it’s definitely a “must buy,” even when it costs more than the very reasonable 3 bucks a head they were charging last Saturday.

Romanesco is as delicious as it is gorgeous: less crumbly than other cauliflowers, more toothsome than broccoli, slightly sweet , slightly nutty, not sulfurous unless you let it spend too much time in table-décor mode.

Displaying Romanesco is simplicity itself; just cut the base so it stands level, then put it in a slick of water. (If you use a bowl, be sure the water doesn’t come more than a half-inch or so up the base.) It will stay handsome for 2 or 3 days if it’s kept out of the sun; you can get 4 or more if you put it in the fridge each night. The base is tough, difficult to slice without pressing so firmly you break off points. Use a serrated knife.

Eating Romanesco: For best flavor and texture, buy two, so you can display one and keep the other in the coldest part of the fridge until you eat it asap. Simplest thing is to eat it raw, with coarse salt. Next easiest thing is raw with just about any dip, although the very best may be

Bagna Cauda

Translates “hot bath,” and must be hot to be tasty, so the most important ingredient is a small chafing dish or a saucepan that fits neatly on a portable burner. Good with any vegetable firm enough to dip; just be sure to let whatever it is come to room temperature before serving; the vegetable will have better flavor and it won’t cool its coating and spoil the effect. This recipe is adapted from from my 1969 edition of Ada Boni’s justifiably durable – albeit currently out of print – Italian Regional Cooking. It’s much heavier on butter than most, and even I, the Dairy Queen, often use mostly oil. But before you dismiss the butter out of hand, try it, especially with strong flavored vegetables such as the traditional cardoon ( also endive, celery root, bell pepper and cole flowers ).
½ pound unsalted butter
¼ cup olive oil
2 – 4 tablespoons minced garlic ( use more if it’s hardneck , less if it’s conventional)
6 canned anchovy filets
optional : 1 small thinly sliced truffle

Melt butter with oil over low heat, then add garlic and let it seethe without coloring. Remove from heat, add anchovies and let them sit a minute to soften. Mush them around with a wooden spoon until they dissolve. ( Add truffle if using), salt to taste, reheat to simmering and serve ditto.

Please report back if you try the truffle; confess I’ve never in 40 years of using the recipe.

Cooking Romanesco
: like broccoli and cauliflower, chunks are tastiest steam-sautaéed.

1. Cut off florets, cut interior into slightly-less-than floret size chunks. Boil about 1/2 inch of water in a non-reactive sautaé pan large enough to hold the pieces in a single layer. Add pieces, partially cover the pan and stay nearby, alert for the sizzle of “watersallgoneeeek!”. Shake pan (or stir contents) from time to time.

2. In less than 5 minutes, when almost all of the water has evaporated, test a chunk. If it’s still near-raw, turn down the heat, cover the pan and keep cooking until almost done. If initial boiling yields almost done, proceed at once to

3. Remove cover. Stand right there shaking the pan until it’s dry, then add enough olive oil or butter to coat all pieces thinly. Add seasonings if wanted: minced garlic, shredded lemon zest, julienned sweet or hot red pepper, toasted cumin seeds… Turn heat to medium and keep cooking until the chunks are just cooked through and starting to turn gold at the edges. Sprinkle w/ coarse salt and eat ’em up. Good cold if you use olive oil.

Why I say growing Romanesco is a pain:

There are a number of different cultivars, some hybrid, some open pollinated (Romanesco dates back to at least the 16th century), but even the earliest takes about 80 days to single-head-per-plant harvest , counting from when you plant out the 4 to 6 week old seedlings. Seedlings are frost tender, but those 80 days must all be cool ones, so Romanesco is a fall crop in the Northeast.

That means getting the seedlings going in the heat of summer, a challenge given their preferred growing temperature of roughly 60 degrees. Then, Romanesco being a cauliflower, it needs near-neutral, highly-fertile soil, plenty of moisture, plenty of room to grow – at least 18 inches between plants and 30 inches between rows – and plenty of attention to bug and disease prevention; Romanesco is vulnerable to every one of the 350,000 afflictions that target brassicas. Other than that, piece of cake.

The photographer:

John Walker was attracted by Romanesco’s fractal form, then fell briefly into vegetable love before once more romancing the math.

Washing Spinach

A reflection on the spinach catastrophe is coming along as soon as I cool down a bit – talk about steamed! I’m ready to kill every news outlet that said nothing about “eat local.” But first, for those legions of sensible people who buy their spinach at the farmers’ market, a tip on washing . I’m sure the (currently radioactive) bagged stuff only got so popular because it’s so easy to use.

There are two tricks to easy greens-washing.

1. Chop first. Dirt and sand fall off more easily when pieces are small, especially if they’re pieces of something as corrugated as spinach.

2. Use a large basin of water. Dunk the material and swish it around, then lift into a colander. Clean the basin. Repeat until no more dirt falls to the bottom. If you live where water should be conserved, just use two big bowls and pour the water back and forth until the very last rinse.

Basil Time

No denying – in fact no escaping – it’s basil and tomato season. The combo is everywhere, at every level of splendor. Amazingly, even in August there are restaurants awash in styrofoam agribusiness tomatoes, leathery, soap-flavored basil     and mozzarella the texture of something vulcanized, but in most cases you can count on getting something pretty good,   and often you get something pretty great: a combination of dead ripe, sweet home grown tomato and tender young sun-kissed basil, one of gastronomy’s finest pairings, an all time winner   –

just not all the time, dammit!

Let’s consider giving it a rest, and not only because this marvy duo is less than fun when it shows up for the 10th time in a week. Time apart is also a boon to the tomatoes, which always end up playing second fiddle to their minty/musky   friend.

But that doesn’t mean basil should be neglected, not when it’s so good with snap beans, summer squash, grilled fish , pasta – pesto! (recipe follows)  – and if you are feeling nouvelle, nectarines.

Basil that’s ready to cut back right now. ( 3 or 4  days ago, actually) .See below for details.

* Harvesting. It’s best to gather basil at the end of the day. Flavor is strongest and sweetest then, and evening-cut stems last longer. Just be sure to get out there before the dew falls; wet leaves muck up recipes and rot fast in storage.

* Storing. Basil and the refrigerator are not friends; the cold turns the leaves black in very short order. It does pay to keep the stems in water, and since there’s nothing like having the inspiration right in front of you when you’re cooking, I usually keep a bouquet of  basil (along with other tender herbs such as parsley, dill, summer savory, and cilantro) in a jar of water near the prep area. Just strip all leaves that would be below the water line before you submerge the stems; change the water daily; and keep the jar out of the sun.

* Plant maintenance and multiplication. Basil gets grassy flavored and leathery as soon as it starts forming flowers. It also stops making green growth. So don’t let it bloom.

As soon as you see the slightest indication that flower stems are about to start, cut plants back, at least 2 or 3 branches down and even farther is better. Pruned plants will rebound quickly, sending out tender stems and tender leaves. As a plus, pruned-off stems with several leaf nodes can often be persuaded to send out roots.

Choose stems that do not have flowers. Store in jars of water as described above. Pot ’em up when roots are about ½ inch long and you’ll have plenty of young plants to tide you over the swing season (frosty nights; warm days; pots of basil in the sun, sheltered from frost by the porch roof). Be warned that if you root stems that have flower nodes you will not have young plants. You’ll have new old plants, which will promptly make tough flowering stems instead of tender growth.

(from The Modern Country Cook )

This is actually more a pistachio sauce with basil than anything that could legitimately be called pesto, but it’s a nice change from the usual, for which everyone already has a favorite recipe. I used to be of the opinion that this mixture did not freeze well but I’ve changed my mind – it’s fine. Just be sure to wrap air-tight and freeze in small quantities.

For   about 1 ½ cups, 4 to 6 servings:

1 large clove of garlic, minced fine
3 tbl. freshly grated Parmesan
4 oz. unsalted , shelled roasted pistachios
2 lightly packed cups basil leaves
1/3 to ½ cup light cream ( or ¼ cup whipping cream and some milk)

Put the garlic , cheese and nuts in a food processor and grind until the nut chunks are a bit smaller than those in chunky peanut butter. Add basil, stir to get it under the blades and grind again, freeing the leaves with a knife from time to time, until you have a homogenous paste. Whirr in enough dairy to turn the sauce the consistency of mayo. Salt to taste that’s it.

BLT: Summer in a Sandwich

You have to grow the lettuce in the shade (of the tomato plants, for instance) but other than that, August and September are glory time for one of the greatest food items ever assembled, that lunch of lunches, the BLT.

Can’t really say there’s only one recipe. Say rather there’s only one correct set of components .

One ingredient here is a ringer – can you spot it? Read on.

A Proper BLT:

the Bacon: Local pork. No nitrates. Put slices in a single layer in a heavy cast-iron skillet . Cook slowly, turning often, until most of the fat is rendered and the bacon is well-browned and crisp. Drain. Save fat for cornbread, fried green tomatoes and other baconfat-needy items.

( For a while there I was doing the bacon in the microwave, sandwiching it between unbleached paper towels according to micro directions. It got very crisp and was notably ungreasy, but all that lovely bacon fat was lost and the crispness of the bacon was an oddly dry, industrial crispness reminiscent of fake bacon bits. )

the Lettuce: Preferably from the garden. Crisp but not agribusiness-romaine crisp; it has to play well with others while adding a light, fresh note to the ensemble.

the Tomatoes: Ripe on the edge of falling apart but not falling over it. The ones in the picture are, clockwise from top: Aunt Ruby’s German Green, one of the sweetest heirlooms available; Japanese Trifele, a high-yielding, deep-flavored “black” ; and the unfortunately-named Sophie’s Choice, a new, supposedly early variety trialed this year and not destined for repeat although it tastes pretty good ( plants are small, low-yielding, and not significantly earlier than main crop tomatoes).

the Mayonnaise: Homemade mayonnaise is all very well, but NOT on a BLT, which should be made with Hellmann’s. period. The jar in the picture contains a version made with lime juice for the Latino market and alas not available everywhere. Good though.

And thus we come to the ringer,
the Bread: That’s a ciabatta in the picture and it did make a tasty sandwich, but a naturally-leavened bread full of big holes in the European style is not right for a BLT. What’s wanted is old fashioned Pullman bread, aka pain de mie, the bread that got debased into wonderbread. Properly made, the square, soft-crusted loaf has a very tight, even crumb and just a tiny touch of sweetness to go with the blended flavors of milk and yeasted wheat.