Summer Bounty Sandwiches for One
There’s no easy way to get to Cooperstown. The road from New York City into the rural sleepiness of Central New York is long and winding, leading you through the suburban coldness of Albany and then along miles and miles of nothing but gas stations, crooked barns, antique shacks, and horizon. After nearly four hours in the car, your legs having frozen into a 90-degree angle, you turn onto Route 80 and you can finally spy glimpses of the Otsego Lake as it smiles at you through the trees and in between lake houses, its current pointing the way to Main Street. When you finally reach Cooperstown, you take a left at the only streetlight on Main Street. There, hanging high over the street, a banner announces to you that the Farmers Market is now open for the summer. And you know that the journey was well worth it.
For five years I worked for the Glimmerglass Festival, an opera company in Cooperstown, New York. My first week up there every summer, I couldn’t wait to get the Farmers’ Market. It was like a homecoming, and indeed, the Farmers’ Market was like a second home. Every Tuesday and Saturday for the 11 weeks I was up there, I’d drive 20 minutes into town, watching as the corn grew higher with every passing week, to replenish my weekly treasure of fresh, local and ultra-seasonal produce. In early June and July, I coveted bouquets of bright green garlic scapes, handfuls of thorny Kirby cucumbers and quarts of precious gem-like strawberries. In the thick of July, I snacked relentlessly between rehearsals on pints of fresh-picked blueberries and found any excuse to add delicate leaves of sorrel to farm-fresh eggs and grits creamy with white New York cheddar. Everything tasted of sun, dirt and the pure summer rain.
But all this was mere preparation for that first Saturday in August when the farmers’ tables and crates would overflow with eggplant and tomatoes. Sometimes, I would just wander from farmer to farmer, admiring the different shades of shapes of eggplant presented to me, as if I were browsing for jewelry at Tiffany’s. Nothing could have made me happier than the specks of dry dirt that covered the round, red tomatoes. That told me that they had never seen a day in a greenhouse and were bursting with the flavor of summer. I’d buy as many eggplant and tomatoes as I could each visit, knowing that before long, the days would shorten into September, and the bounty would become a memory.
One summer, the company assigned me my own apartment, which meant I had my own kitchen. My most frequent dinner guests were Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem, Caroline Eden’s Samarkand and Rawia Bishara’s Olives, Lemons & Za’atar, which I read while eating my dinner in joyful solitude. Their voices, and recipes, echoed in my head all summer, guiding me toward bolder flavors and new methods. Eager to put my purple and red bounty to use, but needing a recipe that could be made quickly during rehearsal breaks and saved for later meals, I came up with simple, unbelievably satisfying summer sandwiches inspired by the Levantine and Caucasian flavors of my dinner guests.
I roasted slices of eggplant until they were as soft as pillows, then sliced the tomatoes, who had ripened into their truest, most authentic selves. I slathered slices of whole wheat bread with a garlicky yogurt sauce, which I’d dyed emerald green with dill. I quickly chopped and pickled fresh cucumbers and jalapeños in vinegar, and while they were still warm from the stove, began assembling the sandwiches. Bread, yogurt, pickles, eggplant, tomato, yogurt, bread. Repeat. If I could control myself, I’d eat two sandwiches for dinner, and save the rest for the week to come. Often, I couldn’t control myself, savoring each sandwich until there was nothing on the plate put dots of yogurt and flecks dill, and the retreating sun would tell me it was time for rehearsal.