There cannot be a more perfect summer food than an heirloom tomato. I anticipate the arrival of real tomatoes from late October until mid- to late- July, when I finally am able to stockpile the real deal and am left to contemplate ever more uses of the tomato while supplies last. And when they’re gone, I crave them like a junky, and resist the urge to purchase those falsely perfect specimens of tomatoes at the grocery store—the flavorless, mealy, sad-sack imitations that they are.
Since I've been out of town a lot this summer, my weekend forays to the farmers market have been compromised far too often. So it was with relish that I stockpiled recently at the market, with definite plans for my stash. I beelined to my favorite tomato pusher (and yes, it does reach the level of addiction that justifies this moniker, what with the cost of an oversized Brandywine sometimes reaching $5 a tomato) , who had his stockpile at the ready.
I get greedy with tomatoes. And crave fresh bruschetta (pronounced with a hard “k” sound, like brus-K-etta, not with a “sh” sound). And fresh tomato sauce, which I make in bulk and freeze for the winter.
My latest addiction is smoked tomatoes, and I’ve had my smoker at the ready. Drizzle with some olive oil, sprinkle with fresh rosemary, smoke for 3 or 4 hours, and eat it straight from the smoker, hot and flavorful. Or put on top of fresh bread. Makes a lovely topping to a sandwich.
Here are two easy recipes that rely upon summer’s best tomatoes, combined with my favorite type of cooking, Italian. Combine with a glass of Sangiovese (I’m partial to reds) and maybe a salad made with all local greens and vegetables, and you have a perfect summer meal. Buon appetito!
(makes six generous portions)
•fresh baguette or loaf of ciabatta
•1-2 heirloom tomatoes
•couple of tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
•one container fresh mozzarella, mozzarella rinsed and patted dry
•5-6 fresh basil leaves, rinsed & patted dry
•about 1 tablespoon of very good balsamic vinegar
•2 cloves fresh garlic
•sea salt to taste
1. Heat gas grill up to high (or broiler), then turn down to medium high after heated up for five minutes or so
2. slice tomatoes into 1/4" slices
3. slice mozzarella into same size slices
4. slice baguette lengthwise and then into three segments--this will give you a total of six pieces of bread.
5. brush cut surface of bread with olive oil
6. cut garlic clove in half, rub exposed flat slice of garlic along oiled face of bread
7. grill bread till golden
to plate bruschetta, place 2-3 basil leaves on bread surface, layer next with 2-3 slices of tomatoes, 2-3 slices of mozzarella, small pinch of sea salt to taste, then drizzle with balsamic vinegar.
Pasta with Cherry Tomatoes, Basil and Mozzarella (Penne alla Caprese in Crudo) (from Lidia’s Italian-American Kitchen by Lidia Matticchio Bastianich)
from the author: I like to eat the pasta hot with room-temperature sauce, but you could just as well serve it all cold. In that case, toss the tomatoes and pasta while still hot, then set them aside until you’re ready to serve them. Finish the pasta by tossing in the basil and bocconcini and serve. I can go ondetailing recipes with minimal changes in the ingredient list or techniques but what I want to leave with you is not only recipes but the understanding, and hence the liberty and confidence, to deviate from the recipe path and come up with a version of the plate that reflects your personal taste and local produce. When you reach this point, cooking is truly a joy.
•1 pound ripe and juicy cherry tomatoes, rinsed, dried and cut in half (I often use heirloom tomatoes if cherry tomatoes aren’t available. Also, even though it changes the color of the dish, the sungold orange cherry tomatoes fresh from the farmer’s market are fabulous in this
•1/4 c. extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling over the finished pasta if you like (the higher quality the better)
•1 tsp. sea salt, preferably coarse (and do NOT use more than this or it will be too salty. Be sure to stir the sea salt well in the mixture so it dissolves thoroughly)
•pinch crushed hot red pepper
•4 cloves garlic, peeled
•1 pound penne (I like to use Farfelle, the bow-tie pasta)
•10 fresh basil leaves, shredded (for variation you could try mint, or even fresh sorrel would be lovely)
1/2 pound bocconicini (bite-sized fresh mozzarella), cut in half
Directions: Toss the tomatoes, oil, sea salt and crushed red pepper together in a large bowl. Whack the garlic with the side of a knife and toss it into the bowl. Let marinate at room temperature, tossing once or twice, for 30 minutes.
While the tomatoes are marinating, bring 6 quarts of salted water to a boil in an 8-qt. pot over high heat.
Stir the penne into the boiling water. Return to a boil, stirring frequently. Cook the pasta, semi-covered, stirring occasionally, until done, 10-12 minutes.
Remove the garlic from the marinated tomatoes and toss in the basil. Drain the pasta, add it to the bowl, and toss well to mix. Check the seasoning, adding salt and more crushed red pepper if necessary. Gently stir in the bocconcini and serve.
Makes 6 servings
*from the author: coarse sea salt: The melting of salt is a chemical reaction that draws the liquid from the tomatoes. The larger the salt crystal, the more liquid it will draw out. And that’s exactly what we want—more juice to use as a sauce for our pasta.