What’s the best way to eat a homegrown tomato?
1) Open your mouth.
2) Take a bite.
I’m totally serious, but you’re probably looking for something just slightly more involved. Make a Simple Tomato Salad. The most basic version is merely to arrange sliced tomatoes on a plate or cut chunks of tomatoes into a bowl, sprinkle with salt & pepper, then finish with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil or a plop of mayonnaise. Toss (or don’t) and serve. I’d never thought of serving just tomatoes and mayonnaise until my husband asked for it. Simple, yet satisfying.
Honestly, some heirloom varieties have such a splendid tartness to them that the juice itself can sub for vinegar – it combines with the oil or mayo and makes a lavishly flavorful dressing, needing nothing more than salt and pepper for completion.
Still wanting a little something more – like an actual recipe? Can do, but if you have genuine homegrown tomatoes that are already amazing on their own, keep them center stage. Create a salad around the tomatoes to highlight, rather than overpower, their delightful piquancy. Use just a few other ingredients to enhance that all-too-rare tomato experience without diverting attention from the star player.
As an example, here’s a tomato, onion and basil salad with the simplest kind of vinagrette possible – drizzle and you’re done. The hardest part is the basil chiffonade, and even that’s pretty easy. Never heard of chiffonade? Don’t panic – it’s a twenty-five dollar name for a simple, useful technique. Let’s get started.
Simple Tomato Salad Recipe and Basil Chiffonade Tutorial
- 4 large fresh basil leaves
- 2 large, very ripe, homegrown tomatoes, about the size of your fist. Use an heirloom variety, if possible
- 1 medium Vidalia or other sweet onion
- Black pepper to taste, freshly ground if you have it
- Sea salt to taste
- 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
Chiffonade is French word, literally meaning “made of rags.” It’s a method for easily cutting herbs or leafy veggies (such as lettuce or spinach) into long, thin strips. It’s handy here because, while fresh basil is a wondrous thing, discovering you’ve got an entire basil leaf in one’s mouth is not appreciated by everyone. This technique yields lovely little strips that mix into the salad nicely.
Wash the basil leaves and pat dry. Trim off stems, if present, so you have only the leaves. Stack the leaves on your cutting board, and, starting from a pointy end rather than a side, carefully begin to roll up the stacked leaves. Neatness is not important here – just try to get them into a roll about the diameter of your pinky finger, more or less.
Firmly hold the rolled leaves on the cutting board with the fingers of your non-knife hand, then using a very sharp knife, slice the rolled basil leaves into thin strips, about 1/8 inch wide. Set aside.
Wash the tomatoes and trim off any spots you find unappealing. Some tomatoes have a stem (or core) that go deeper into the tomato than you may find in other varieties. These parts can have a woody texture, so be sure to find and remove all of the stem/core or you may have an unpleasant surprise in your salad. (It won’t hurt you – it’ll just be rather hard to chew and taste more like tree than tomato.) Cut the tomatoes into largish chunks, right into the serving dish.
Thinly slice the sweet onion and cut the slices into halves or thirds, separating the layers into strips. Add
these to the dish, then scatter the basil over the top. Give a light sprinkling of salt and pepper to the veggies. Drizzle with the olive oil, then the vinegar. Let stand at room temperature up to half an hour.
Toss gently just before serving. This is a salad that can be served as an appetizer. Oh, and the wondrous blending of olive oil, balsamic vinegar with the tomato juices & seasonings will beg to be sopped up with a good, crusty bread.
Balsamic vinegar (in my opinion) is perfect with tomatoes, but experiment with red or white wine vinegar, sherry vinegar, or lemon or lime juice. Use different onions, or use no onions. Or try shallots. Or….garlic! Vary the herbs. Use a combination. Or use none. Toss another veggie into the mix: a bit of colorful sweet pepper, either fresh or roasted & peeled. Cucumbers & tomatoes, chunked, then tossed with mayonnaise is a very quick and surprisingly good salad when you need something last minute.
What’s the surest way to kill a good tomato? Refrigerate it. Oh, it still LOOKS like a tomato, but the texture is transformed from firm to mealy, and the sharp flavor will become dulled. Personally, once a tomato’s been chilled, I’ll only use it for cooking. For peak flavor and best texture, homegrown tomatoes should be stored at room temperature and used as they ripen. I’m not passionate about many things in life, but decent tomatoes are near and dear to my heart, and I will do without fresh tomatoes rather than eat the flavorless, mealy pretenders that are foist upon us out of season.
The rather bossy opinions expressed herein are those of the author, Bobbie Laughman, and not necessarily those of the management of Home Ec 101.