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It’s Tomato Time – Insalata Caprese

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In the cycle of the seasons, the end of summer usually brings with it a plethora of tomatoes. A really fresh, ripe tomato that’s been raised outdoors (not in a greenhouse) smells just like a warm, lazy August day with sunshine, a blue cloudless sky, and the sound of bugs droning in the background.
If you can get the chance to pick one just as it is ready, straight from the vine, you are one of the lucky ones. Hold it up to your nose and inhale (yes, this is legal). To me, this is its quintessential fragrance: the mellowness of the red with a bit of a sharp tang from the green. It is the contrast between the smooth roundness of the tomato and the prickly parts of the stalk from which sprung the vine on which it grew.
Some of these memories come from the years when my mother decided to cordon off part of our backyard so that she could grow vegetables (fortunately, it wasn’t any part of the yard where we used to kick soccer balls between used car tires). I can’t remember for how long she did this, but it has left me with a life-long appreciation for freshly-picked produce and the ability to know what a real tomato should taste like. I have been forever spoiled.
Part of my chores during those summers was to weed this fertile patch so I became well acquainted with the sharper side of tomato plants. In the years since, when friends and co-workers offer to share their homegrown bounty, I leap at the chance to have some of these tasty beauties, knowing the work that goes into their production and aware that anything that comes from even the smallest window box is probably tastes better than what is found at most supermarkets.
Freshly grown, ripe tomatoes are the essence of summertime’s culinary bounty for me. As usual, the Greenmarket is my best friend at this time of year. Along with my hunt for asparagus and strawberries in their time, when July heads into August my “food radar” becomes attune to seeking out and gathering the freshest, ripest specimens I can locate.
It is easy to go overboard with buying up every gorgeous sample I can find so I do try to practice restraint as produce this fresh can go off very quickly. One of these years, I keep telling myself, I will break down and start buying enough tomatoes to make my own homemade sauce completely from scratch. In the meantime, I limit my purchases to what I think I will use in a few day’s time, knowing that these gems will not last for long.
My preferred way to eat super-fresh summertime tomatoes, a habit learned from my mother, is the following:
Pick
Cut out stem
Rinse off dirt
Slice
Dust with light coating of salt
Pop in mouth
Chew
Let warmth and flavor flow over tastebuds
Alternatively, here is a suggestion which will enable you to savor the taste of the tomatoes as close to that method as possible while keeping your hot weather cooking exertions to a minimum.
Insalata Caprese
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Serving Size: use these proportions per person
Ingredients:
Tomatoes
Mozzarella (freshly-made or di bufala if possible)
1/4 tsp Olive oil, extra virgin
1/8 tsp Salt
1/16 tsp Black pepper, freshly ground
1-2 tsp Basil leaves, fresh, torn or chopped
1/4 tsp Oregano leaves, fresh (optional)
Grilled or toasted bread to serve
Assembly:
Arrange on individual plates or serving platter, slices of tomato alternating with slices of mozzarella. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Scatter basil leaves and oregano leaves (if using) on top of the tomatoes and mozzarella.
Serve as is or with grilled or toasted bread to accompany and soak up the juices.
Buon appetito!

3 Comments

  1. jax
    jax09-07-2006

    mmm…i love tomatoes! those recipes look delish–i might have to try one soon…

    of course, tomatoes can also be used in other ways…we had a bunch of friends who just went last week to the tomatino festival in spain, where they spent one messy hour throwing and being pelted by tomatoes…can anyone say food fight?

  2. guy
    guy09-08-2006

    Okay, that was tomato porn. Beautiful shots of heirloom toms. BTW, as luscious as tomatoes are, I still bear the scars of tomato harvest season in California, where fruit that have fallen off the big trucks lie split and rotting on the sides of the freeways. A smell to be forgotten.

  3. theexperimentalgourmand
    theexperimentalgourmand09-09-2006

    Thanks! I think they’ll look great, too. And, they taste even better – mmmm. Yeah, I decided that “rotten food” is a category I just won’t touch for a while. I have memories of fallen, fermenting, pears in our parents’ back yard. I smelled them again many years later in Italy while walking by a gorgeous, flowering tree.