by Kaitlyn Goalen
photographs by Jillian Clark
Labor Day starts the final countdown for my beleaguered tomato bed, each plant on the verge of crying uncle. So, this September I’m committing to the personal goal of eating as many tomatoes as possible while supplies last, from breakfast (egg and tomato scramble) to lunch (tomato salad with parmesan vinaigrette) and dinner (tomato pie).
But the workhorse recipe that I’ll be turning to most this month isn’t even really a recipe, but a concept: two slices of white bread, slicked with mayonnaise, and stuffed with seasoned tomatoes.
The tomato sandwich lives in an interesting intersection. It appeals to this age of obsession over ingredients because its simplicity lets fresh tomatoes shine. But it is also decidedly low-brow – tomato sandwich zealots will talk your ear off about the importance of using white bread and Duke’s from a jar, swept up in a nostalgic romanticism about processed ingredients that they might otherwise avoid.
As for me, I love tomato sandwiches for all of the above reasons, but also for one more geeky culinary detail: I happen to believe that the intermingling of fresh tomato juices and mayonnaise results in an epic, greater-than-the-sum-of-its-parts love child, a sauce that deserves its own special attention.
So, I’ve been thinking about how to harness this culinary power couple in more ways. It shares genes with the classic British sauce, Marie Rose, which is often served with shrimp cocktail. Other versions of the tomato-mayo combo appear in every corner of the South, from roasted tomato remoulades to the “frozen tomato,” a longstanding dish featured at the Belle Meade Country Club in Nashville, in which tomato juice, mayonnaise, and a few other ingredients are blended together, then frozen and scooped, ice cream-style, onto leaves of lettuce.
But the closest I’ve come to experiencing that combination of creamy, slightly vinegary mayonnaise with heavily seasoned tomato juice came in the form of pasta salad at a Fourth of July picnic. Like the tomato sandwich, the dish was unapologetically sparse: just macaroni, diced tomato, black pepper, salt, and mayonnaise. But when the ingredients came together, it formed the most delicious summer side dish I could imagine, a perfect foil to steak, or ribs, or chicken, or anything else that was meant to steal the show.
Since then, I’ve been refining that dish, creating a pasta that celebrates the last dying days of summer and pays homage to its most beloved ingredients. It turned out that carbonara, an Italian classic in which bacon and eggs come together to silkily coat noodles, was the perfect template on which to impress my tomato-mayo fantasies. Instead of using raw egg yolks as the base, I whip egg yolks, tomato, and oil into a mayonnaise and then use that as the base of the pasta sauce. In the presence of heat and bacon grease, it relaxes into a creamy, undeniably delicious carbonara, rich with that familiar flavor. Think of it as a tomato sandwich in black tie attire.
Tomato Sandwich Carbonara
1 large ripe tomato
2 egg yolks
3 cups plus 1 tablespoon canola oil, divided
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 medium yellow squash, sliced in half lengthwise
½ red onion
2 ears corn
6 slices thick-cut bacon, sliced into batons
1 16-ounce box short pasta, such as penne, macaroni, or orecchiette
½ cup toasted breadcrumbs
¼ cup basil leaves
Set a box grater over a plate. Slice the tomato in half, then grate it, starting with the cut side, until you reach the stem. Discard the stem.
In a food processor, combine the egg, egg yolk, and grated tomato. Puree for about 2 minutes, until the mixture is lighter in color. With the motor running, slowly add 3 cups canola oil in a thin stream until it is completely incorporated and the mixture has thickened. Season generously with salt and pepper, and set aside.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.
Set a cast iron skillet over high heat and add the remaining 1 tablespoon canola oil. When it shimmers, add the squash, cut side down, and sear until charred and blistered, about 5 minutes each side. Transfer the squash to a plate. Add the red onion to the skillet and sear about 7 minutes on each side, then transfer to the plate with the squash. Finally, add the corn and sear, turning frequently, for about 7 minutes, or until the corn is blistered and golden brown. Roughly dice the squash and red onion and cut the kernels from the corn. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Return the skillet to medium heat and add the bacon. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the bacon is crispy and the fat has rendered. Turn the heat to low. When the water is boiling, add the pasta to the pot and cook according to the package directions. While the pasta is cooking, prepare a large heat-proof bowl with ½ cup of the tomato mayonnaise. Set it next to the skillet with the bacon.
When the pasta is done, strain it, leaving a few inches of the pasta water in the pot. Add the strained pasta to the skillet with the bacon, stirring to coat the noodles in the bacon grease, and return the pot of pasta water to the stove over low heat. Transfer the contents of the skillet to the bowl with the tomato mayonnaise and stir to coat. Place the bowl to sit over the pot with the simmering pasta water, creating a double boiler (this will help thicken the sauce). Stir constantly until the sauce has reached a thick, creamy consistency and is clinging to each noodle.
Add the reserved charred vegetables and stir. Spoon into bowls and sprinkle with basil and breadcrumbs. Serve immediately.