Food writing can be an occupational hazard. Hah, you may exclaim. But let me explain.
My landlord brought over an enormous basketful of ripe tomatoes from his backyard the other day. Twelve pounds, easily. This annual delivery marks a bittersweet time of year, for the beauty and flavor of these botanical berries (Webster's defines them as such) herald the waning of summer. So when my editor asked for an introduction on tomatoes, I thought, "perfect timing."
Don't let those scandal headlines fool you: Tomato season is the juiciest story out there. Mouths water over the mere mention of summer tomatoes, the perfect balance of sweetness and acidity, not too pulpy, not too runny. I brought some in to work - for inspiration, of course. After handing some out around the office, one coworker related - in raptured song - how the perfectly made BLT is the most sublime combination ever concocted in the kitchen. For me, however, the best way to eat a garden tomato is like an apple, dusted with kosher salt after every bite - and juicy slurp.
This is where the occupational hazard comes in. Remember Ross Perot talking about that "giant sucking sound?" Well it's coming from my cubicle. And amid questions of "what are you eating over there?" keys on my computer keep stickingggggggg.
FARMERS' MARKET TOMATO SALAD
1 very small yellow onion, cut into paper-thin slices
Coarse (kosher) salt
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup plain yogurt
1 to 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano
1-1/2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
Freshly ground pepper
6 ripe tomatoes, thinly sliced
1 small English cucumber, peeled and cut into thin slices
Handful of fresh basil leaves
Handful of fresh cherry tomatoes
Place the onion slices in a bowl and sprinkle with salt. Pour the milk over the onion and let stand for about 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, in a small bowl, whisk together the yogurt, lemon juice, garlic, oregano, basil, olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste to form a dressing. Cover and refrigerate until needed.
Arrange the tomato and cucumber slices on a plate. Drain the onion slices and pat dry with paper towels. Scatter the onions atop the tomatoes and cucumbers. Drizzle with the dressing, top with the basil leaves and cherry tomatoes and serve. Serves 6.
- From 'Summer: Recipes Inspired by
Nature's Bounty,' by Joanne Weir
This recipe works well with combinations of meat, herbs, nuts, and cheeses.
4 large tomatoes (about 1-1/2 pounds)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 pound ground lamb or beef
1 cup chopped onion
2 tablespoons chopped garlic
1-1/2 cups cooked rice
3 tablespoons chopped parsley
1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 egg, lightly beaten
Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.
Cut tomatoes in half laterally. Gently squeeze and scoop out juice, seeds, and pulp. Chop pulp, and reserve.
Sprinkle inside of tomatoes with salt.
In a frying pan, heat the olive oil. Add the meat and saut; drain about half of the grease. Add the onion and garlic, saut until onions are soft.
Add tomato juice, seeds and pulp and cook until about half of the liquid has evaporated.Stir in rice, parsley, pine nuts, and 1/4 cup cheese. Stir in egg.
Fill tomatoes with meat and rice mixture and place in baking pan, open side up. (If tomatoes don't fit snugly, a layer of crumpled aluminum foil will keep tomatoes from tipping.) Sprinkle top with remaining Parmesan cheese.
Bake for 20 to 30 minutes, until heated through. Serve immediately.
GRILLED BREAD WITH TOMATOES AND OLIVE OIL
In every village in Spain, they make a simple tapa called pan con tomate. Thick slabs of crusty white bread are toasted over a wood fire until lightly golden. Then tomato halves are smeared over the toast and rubbed with garlic and fruity Spanish olive oil. Thin slices of Manchego, (a sheep cheese available in many well-stocked cheese shops) can be added. Spanish olives, anchovies, and Spanish ham or prosciutto make also make a nice garnish.
2 garlic cloves
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
Twelve 3/4-inch-thick slices country -style white bread
4 to 6 very ripe red tomatoes, halved
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup chopped green Spanish olives
12 anchovy fillets, soaked in cold water for 10 minutes, drained; patted dry
12 paper-thin slices Spanish ham or prosciutto
12 paper-thin slices Manchego cheese
Preheat broiler or an outdoor grill.
In a mortar and pestle, mash the garlic with a pinch of salt. Stir in the oil.
Broil or grill the bread slices until golden brown. Rub both sides of the toasted bread with tomato, squeezing slightly to leave the pulp, seeds, and juice. Drizzle olive oil over one side of the bread; sprinkle with salt and pepper.
- Adapted from 'You Say Tomato,' by Joanne Weir (Broadway Books, $15.)