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It’s Tomato Time – Insalata Caprese

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!

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