Monday, October 10, 2011

Open Faced Tomato Sandwiches

Sandwich on Plate
Open Faced Tomato Sandwich

Recipe by Mom

We tolerate things from our family that we'd never put up with from friends. After all, we can un-friend someone, but we can't un-family them. If a friend asked me, after not seeing me in three years, "Why did you come and visit me anyway? I'm not lonely!" I would not call up the next day to ask if I could see him then. In fact, I would not have traveled the 3200 miles to his town to make a connection. But I did that with my father last year, and it happened that this was the last time I saw him before he passed away. It was not an easy or fun trip, not a happy connection, but a reaching out to someone who was expert at distancing others when his mood suited.

Last week we scattered my Dad's ashes with very little ceremony. No words were said, and though there were three daughters present, one dumped the ashes into the ocean by herself. At the time, I was putting my camera in a safe spot away from sand and the very high tide, so that I could go into the water and participate. Instead, I didn't participate, or even witness the scattering of my father's ashes, though I'd traveled across the country to do so. The closure I'd hoped for eluded me.

Stacking up Bread, Tomatoes, Cheese, and Bacon
Preparing One of Dad's Faves
In coming to terms with my father's passing, his opinion of me, and not saying goodbye properly when his ashes were scattered, I searched for common ground, for a way to feel connected with my Dad and a way to say farewell. I've known for years that the sharing of food can fill in emotional gaps in families. I searched my memories for foods that Dad made, and realized that I'd already posted the few that didn't use prepackaged ingredients. Then I remembered the open faced sandwiches.

This is actually my Mom's family recipe from long ago. What nurtures me about this recipe is that Dad remembered it several years after Mom passed, when he became nostalgic for her cooking. He dictated it to me as if I'd never heard it before, and it brought back memories of a very young me standing at the broiler watching the sandwiches magically cook. The recipe is perfect because this is the last of tomato season here, and Dad was an avid tomato grower. Having a lunch that we both enjoyed together long ago brought me the needed connection with my father, so that I can begin to let him go in peace. Farewell Dad, and be well.

Four Sandwiches in the Toaster Oven
The Broiler Working its Magic
When you make this recipe, be sure to use super-ripe tomatoes, fresh from a garden if possible. I've substituted whole grain bread for the white bread my Mom used years ago. I've also substituted natural yellow cheddar for the old-school dyed-orange cheddar. Most cheddars are dyed with a vegetable-based annatto color these days, but dye is still an unnecessary additive. I broiled these in the toaster oven, which consumes considerably less energy than the full-size oven.

Four Sandwiches Fresh and Hot from the Broiler
Hot, Delicious, and Informal
Nitrite-free bacon is healthiest. Sodium nitrite has been used to preserve bacon for generations, as it prevents botulism while maintaining a nice pink color. When sodium nitrite is heated along with protein, nitrosamines can form. Most nitrosamines are carcinogenic. Although the USDA considers nitrites in meat safe, because the benefits outweigh the costs, why take a chance when we're talking cancer? Nitrite-free bacon is available in natural foods stores, and even at Trader Joe's. If you must use nitrite-preserved bacon, according to the Journal of Food Science, you can minimize the amount of nitrosamines formed by lowering the temperature at which it's cooked. In this recipe you could cook the sandwich further away from broiler. The length of time bacon is cooked does not seem to effect the amount of nitrosamines formed.

Enjoy this classic comfort food for brunch, lunch, or a with a salad for supper.

Two Delicious Sandwiches
Open Faced Tomato Sandwiches
4 sandwiches, serves 2 - 4

4 slices whole grain bread
~6 oz. sharp cheddar cheese
1 very large ripe tomato
4 slices bacon

Preheat broiler (or toaster oven on Broil setting). Cut tomato into thick slices, about 3/8 - 1/2 inch thick. Cut cheese into slices 1/4 - 3/8 inch thick.

Lay bread slices on broiler pan. You can layer either cheese or tomato on top of bread first. Traditionally, tomato gets layered on bread first, followed by cheese and bacon. I like this best because it separates the salty cheese and bacon from the sweet tomatoes and bread, and the flavors seem more distinct. You might want to put the cheese on first if tomato is very thick (1/2") and you find that bread gets too soggy with tomato juices. This release of tomato juices can be lessened by cooking it closer to the broiler.

After tomato and cheese are on the bread, cut bacon strips in half, and put two on each sandwich, on top of tomato and cheese.

Broil on top rack in toaster oven (with sandwiches closest to broiler), approximately 5 minutes--but keep an eye on it. Timing will depend upon how hot broiler is and how far sandwiches are from heat. Cook it till bacon is as crispy as you like it and cheese is melted. Serve hot and eat with knife and fork. 

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