Monday, May 12, 2008

May 12: BLT Salad

If I had any sense at all, it might embarass me how much I like bacon. Bacon should be a guilty pleasure, eaten in secret, and not talked about.

But I am not someone who feels guilty about pleasure. I never have been. Guilt is not in my nature. If I'm likely to feel bad about it later, I probably won't do it. And I seldom eat anything I feel bad about later. I am an unabashed carnivore. I have gained weight over the years, mostly due to my intensely lazy nature and my feeling that, because everything else in my life is going so well, I just don't feel that need for the element of control that comes from depriving myself of things just to deprive myself. I still practice moderation almost all the time, because if I didn't, I would practice bingeing instead.

You would never have known it based on the weather today, when it barely got out of the 40's here, but it is almost summer. I hate being too hot, and much warmer than about 78 degrees is too hot for me. You wouldn't think summer would be my favorite thing, but I like baseball and after three seasons of heavy, long-simmered rich stews and braises, I love summer food.

Is there anything as great as a BLT? Well, yeah, lots of things, but I'm talking about a real, mid-summer's night dream of a sandwich, with great bread and thick-sliced bacon and serious juicy summer tomatoes. By the time you're down to the end of the sandwich, the juice has soaked into the bread, making a sort of bread-slush with tomatoes and mayonnaise (I seem to be talking a lot about mayonnaise today), with the pieces sliding apart and everything falling apart in your hands...wait. Hold on, that part's not so great.

Yeah, the one drawback to a BLT, the mess that you're left with. Some people (like my mother) are okay with it. Me, not so much. I like my food like I like my husband: orderly, put-together, consistent, and...wait, that's not my husband. Who is that guy?

Anyway, the BLT. There's an answer. It's a good answer and as much as celebrity chefs sort of turn me off (*cough* Rachael Ray *cough*) Alton Brown came up with this one. It's a panzanilla, a bread salad that he gave some clever name that doesn't bear repeating. I love bread salad of all varieties, including a panzanilla with oil-cured olives and spinach and feta which I will try to remember to tell you about some other day.

We were at the farmer's market at Eastern Market in D.C. this weekend, and the tomatoes are starting to taste good again--not those awful pink things with the texture and consistency of a baseball. They're not the big juicy beefsteaks that you'll find in August, the ones that are almost erotic in their ripeness, the ones that are still warm from growing on the vine in the sun when you slice into them, but they'll do. Make this salad now, and then come back to it in July or August and make it again.

If you're like me and cook by the seat of your pants, or you just forgot to set the bread out, you can dry the bread in a very low (like 150 degrees low) for 20 or 30 minutes. I have half a loaf of homemade rustic bread that I would probably use for this--just something serious and sturdy that you can cut into 1-inch cubes. Don't go and try to use Wonderbread for this, or you get what you deserve. I assure you that it's as much about the bread as it is about anything else, and you know me--for me it's always about the bacon.

And the mint? In the dressing? Ummm, no thanks. Add it if you like, but mint and bacon sounds like Doritos and ice cream to me.

BLT Salad

4 cups French bread cut into 1-inch cubes and dried overnight
6 slices bacon, cooked, chopped, drippings reserved
2 cups halved grape tomatoes
2 tablespoons oil, for searing
2 cups halved yellow pear tomatoes or roughly chopped heirloom tomatoes
2 cups chopped romaine lettuce

1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon chiffonade mint
1 tablespoon chiffonade basil

Toss bread cubes in the bacon drippings. Sear the halved grape tomatoes in 2 tablespoons of oil, cut side down, until caramelized about 5 minutes, set aside. Combine red wine vinegar, salt and pepper in a bowl, slowly whisk in olive oil in a thin stream until emulsified. Combine all tomatoes, bread, bacon, and lettuce and dress with vinaigrette, toss well, garnish with mint and basil and serve.

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