September 11, 2019

Dear friends,

Summer is not over; it has just reached it peak on the tomato meter. September, not July or August, is when the tomato onslaught hits.

I made the most of it last week with my own little tomato sandwich festival. I had made a few BLTs earlier in the summer but with the kitchen counter heaped with heirlooms, I vowed to make the best tomato sandwich in existence.

Sparking the project was the memory of tomato toast from long ago on a car trip across northern Italy. At a modest roadside restaurant I ordered a tomato sandwich and was served a thick piece of toast that had been rubbed with the cut side of a ripe tomato.
It was simple and simply perfect.

Research led me to Food 52, the New York Times, Serious Eats, Saveur and other Internet food sites. I consulted Patricia Wells, Craig Claiborne and Kenji Lopez-Alt. Tony and I ate a lot of tomato sandwiches.

Ultimately, I chose three sandwiches worthy of the miracle that is a dead-ripe summer tomato:
1. Melissa Clark’s version of my Italian rubbed-tomato toast, taken to the extreme. Craggy toast is rubbed with a cut clove of garlic, then with a cut tomato to release all the juice into the bread. The toast is spread with mayonnaise and topped with a thick slice of tomato, thinly sliced onion, bacon and the other piece of tomato-rubbed toast. This is an elevated version of the classic tomato-bacon sandwich.

2. Craig Claiborne’s 1964 open-faced version featuring a thick hunk of bread topped with fresh mozzarella, a thick slice of tomato, a couple of salty anchovies and a sprinkling of grated Parmesan. The tartine is then broiled until blistered and bubbly. The salty anchovies cuts through the richness of the cheese, producing cheesy tomato heaven. This was my favorite because: cheese.

3. A mash-up of Kenji Lopez-Alt’s sandwich bread skillet-toasted in bacon fat, spread with the ambrosial smoked-corn mayonnaise I heard about in a PBS episode of “A Chef’s Life,” and filled with crisp bacon and a slice of heirloom tomato. I kind of winged the recipe for smoked corn mayonnaise and thought it was just OK considering the work involved. Then I let it chill for a few hours. Whoa. Then I tasted it again after an overnight in the refrigerator. My gawd, get me a spoon. This sandwich was Tony’s favorite. The smoked tomato mayo may be my favorite substance, ever.

MELISSA CLARK’S TOMATO SANDWICH

4 slices crusty country bread
1 fat garlic clove, halved crosswise
1 ripe and soft tomato, halved
Extra-virgin olive oil, for drizzling
Flaky sea salt
Mayonnaise, as needed
1 ripe but firm tomato, sliced
Thinly sliced white onion
4 slices cooked bacon (optional)

Toast the bread. Take each slice and rub one side all over with the cut side of the garlic clove. (The clove should start to disintegrate into the bread.) Rub each slice with the cut sides of the soft halved tomato, pressing so the tomato flesh sticks to the bread. Drizzle bread with oil, then sprinkle with salt.

Spread mayonnaise over the tomato pulp. Place the sliced tomatoes on top of 2 pieces of the bread. Cover tomato slices with onions and sprinkle with salt. Top with bacon if using, then use the other 2 slices of tomato-rubbed bread to make sandwiches. Eat over the sink. Makes 2 sandwiches.

From The New York Times.

OPEN-FACED TOMATO SANDWICH

6 slices firm-textured sandwich bread (I used thick crusty bread instead)
Unsalted butter, softened
1 ball fresh mozzarella (about 1 lb.), thinly sliced
2 large firm but ripe tomatoes
1/2 tsp. crumbled oregano
1/8 tsp. fresh-ground pepper
1 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted
Salt
18 anchovy fillets
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese (about 1 1/2 cups)
Chopped flat-leaf parsley (optional)

Heat broiler. Spread one side of each slice of bread with softened butter. Cover each with the sliced mozzarella cheese, 3 to 4 slices for each piece of bread. Cut the tomatoes into 1/2-inch-thick slices. Place 1 of the largest slices on each sandwich.

Combine the oregano, pepper and butter. Brush over the tomato slices. Sprinkle with salt and drape 3 anchovy fillets on each sandwich. Cover with grated Parmesan, about 3 to 4 tablespoons per sandwich.

Place under the broiler, about 6 inches from the heating element, until the cheese has melted and is bubbly, 3 to 5 minutes Serve hot, garnished with parsley if desired.Makes 6.

By Craig Claiborne in “The Essential New York Times Cookbook” by Amanda Hesser.

TOMATO AND BACON SANDWICH WITH SMOKED CORN MAYO

4 slices bacon
4 slices fine-grained white sandwich bread (I used Sarah Jane’s)
Smoked corn mayo (recipe follows)
2 large, thick slices heirloom tomato
Coarse sea salt, black pepper

Slowly cook the bacon in a large, heavy skillet until crisp. Remove and drain on paper towels. Pour all but about 1 tablespoon bacon fat into a custard cup and set aside. In the same skillet over medium-high heat, place two slices of the bread and weight with a slightly smaller skillet. Cook until golden brown. Remove from pan, add more bacon fat and repeat with other side of the bread you just toasted. Continue with remaining bacon fat and two slices of bread. You may not need all of the bacon fat. Then again…

Slather a thick layer of smoked corn mayo on one side of each slice of bread. Place a tomato slice on two pieces of bread. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Top each with two pieces of bacon. Top with other slices of bacon-grilled, mayo-slathered bread. Makes 2 sandwiches.

SMOKED CORN MAYO
3 ears corn, shucked
2 large cloves garlic
2 tsp. red wine vinegar
1/2 cup loosely packed basil leaves
1/4 tsp. hot pepper sauce
3/4 cup mayonnaise
1/2 tsp. salt

Grill corn over a medium-hot charcoal fire or on a gas grill until the kernels on one side begin to brown. Turn corn over, sprinkle a few wood chips onto the coals and cover grill, leaving the vents wide open. Continue to grill until the bottom side of the corn begins to brown. Remove and cool.

Drop garlic cloves through the feed tube of a food processor with the motor running until minced. Cut corn kernels from the cobs and add to the bowl of the processor. Process until the corn is pureed.

Add vinegar, basil and hot pepper sauce and puree. Add mayonnaise and salt and process until very smooth. Transfer to a bowl, cover and refrigerate at least 2 hours or ideally overnight. Makes about 2 cups.

The leftover mayo is excellent on sliced ripe tomatoes, stir fried or steamed vegetables or, frankly, just about anything.

TIDBITS
Pears, Grapes and Wine:
The luscious, juicy Asian pears are back in season at Weymouth Farms in Hinckley. But that’s not all the boutique operation is offering this year. Wait until you taste Paul O’Neill’s grapes. Not Concord and Niagara. Several years ago O’Neill planted a number of unusual table grape varieties rarely seen at local farms and almost never in stores.

These grapes, with thin skins and tons of fruit flavor, go by such names as Himrod, Reliance and Jupiter. They are pick your own. My favorite is the purple Jupiter, a muscat-type grape with floral notes.

The primary reason O’Neill planted grapes was that he wanted to make wine. The wine-grape varieties he planted, in consultation with the experts at Cornell University, are not the usual suspects. They are sophisticated hybrids such as Chardonelle and Noiret, which can be rooted rather than grafted, as European vinifera varieties must be. O’Neill learned how to turn the grapes into wine in a course from the University of California at Davis, the epicenter of winemaking education.

The wines already have won a bunch of awards and are sold at the farm. Try the The New Black, a red released this year that already has won gold at the Ohio and the Finger Lakes wine competitions. Even more impressive, Paul’s Asian Pear Wine won gold last year at the International Wine Competition in California, where his late-harvest Apple Ice Wine took silver.

Weymouth Farms is at 2398 Weymouth Road (Route 606) in Hinckley, near I-71 exit 222 or I-271 exit 3. It is open from noon to 5 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday and 1 to 5 p.m. Sundays. Pick-your-own grapes are Saturday and Sunday only. The phone is 216-534-9600. The website is http://www.weymouthfarms.com.

Just Stop It:
So far I have limited myself to a restrained but sarcastic “Really?” when I pass someone snacking on or rearranging the produce at Aldi’s. My patience is wearing thin, though.

When you pluck and eat a grape or snatch a bing cherry, you are stealing. At by-the-bag places, you are stealing from the shopper who buys that bag. At by-the-pound places, you are stealing from the supermarket and, ultimately, the customer who pays in higher prices to make up for what the industry calls “shrinkage.”

My severest scorn, though, is for the Aldi’s customers who unpack and repack the plastic containers of cherries, grapes or strawberries with the choicest selection from the bags on display. This happens almost every time I’m there. A shopper will brazenly set herself up in front of the fruit and begin sorting and rejecting as if she’s doing the laundry.

These miscreants aren’t just selfishly picking and packing the best selections for themselves. They are pawing through the fruit that the next poor shopper will buy. Their fingers are all over those grapes and cherries.

Join me in giving these jerks the evil eye. And maybe a sarcastic “Really?”.

Freaking Out:
Where the freek can I buy some freakin’ freekeh? The Middle Eastern grain is trending hard but I can’t find it in local stores. I have tried Earth Fare, Aldi, Acme and Giant Eagle. (Not Whole Foods because I can’t bring myself to shop in the air space once inhabited by West Point Market.)

The grain has more protein than quinoa and sounds delicious. It is unripe green wheat that is toasted over wood fires to remove the husk, resulting in a nutty, smoky flavor. Sign me up. But where?

GUT CHECK
What I cooked last week:
Hard-cooked egg sandwich with bacon, tomato and pesto on toast; baked bell peppers with a venison-corn stuffing; prosciutto and melon; tomato sandwich with bacon and onions; open-faced tomato sandwich with anchovies, mozzarella and Parmesan cheese; tomato, bacon and mozzarella on toast; chicken stir fry with cauliflower rice; bacon and tomato sandwich with smoked corn mayonnaise.

What I ate in/from restaurants:
Spicy kefta rolled sandwich and salad with feta cheese at Aladdin’s in Montrose; blueberry sugar-free frozen yogurt at Menchie’s; California roll and barbecued chicken wings from Earth Fare; Madras chicken, basmati rice, naan and masala tea at Singh Biryani in Cuyahoga Falls.

THE MAILBAG
From Mark:
A recent New York Times recipe for okonomiyaki — a sort of Japanese chopped cabbage pancake — caught my eye. Then I discovered in a Chicago restaurant an adaptation of okonomiyaki served on (rather than incorporating) a bed of shredded cabbage. My question to you and Tony: Are variations of okonomiyaki common? Are there okonomiyaki restaurants in Japan?

Dear Mark:
Tony says shredded cabbage and eggs are the base to which “chicken or beef or shrimp or octopus are added. So many kinds.” Yes. there are many restaurants devoted to the dish, which is very popular in Japan. It’s like the taco of Japan, he says. Foreign visitors, especially, like it.

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