The taste of summer
KAREN CIMMS/TIMES NEWS Tomato Salad is best when made with fresh ingredients, including local tomatoes. It's the taste of summer in a dish.
Here's another dish that can really only be enjoyed during the summer, and only with fresh tomatoes.
It's so good, however, it's worth waiting for.
Growing up in New Jersey, we always had fresh tomatoes from the garden. And when my son was small, we would have them all over the yard as well.
He would toddle around after us as we weeded and watered, picking the smaller tomatoes off the vine and eating them. The seeds would dribble down his chin, all over his chest, and apparently, all over the yard, as the following season, we had tomato plants sprouting up in the oddest places.
You can't compare the taste of a fresh summer tomato, especially one just minutes, or even hours, old and right off the vine, to any tomato purchased in a grocery store. I think it's a sin to buy hot house tomatoes this time of year, although in the winter, I admit I will settle for store-bought, vine-ripened tomatoes.
I've had lots of versions of Tomato Salad. Some have cucumbers, some black olives and some are just tomatoes, a little oil and a bit of seasoning.
This version is pretty basic, but packs a punch with a healthy dose of garlic. (Here's a word of advice: When slicing the garlic, cut it into larger pieces, no smaller than a quarter of an inch. You probably don't want to accidentally eat one and it's easy to do in this salad.)
One of the best parts of this salad, for me, is the tomato "liquor," or all that juice that accumulates at the bottom of the salad after it sits awhile. It was also one of my mother's favorites, and I can still picture her with a wedge of crusty Italian bread sopping up the last bit of it.
If you've ever had a Panzanella salad, you can understand.
Another thing I like about this dish, is that you can stretch it out for a couple of days.
Once you've combined all your ingredients and eaten most of the tomatoes and whatever else you've added, you can chop up a few more tomatoes and add them to the liquor, and enjoy the salad again the next day. This works well if there is just a little left, and you only have a couple ripe tomatoes hanging on the vine.
I'll do this for a couple days, but after that, I can't hold back on grabbing some crusty bread and getting to the bottom of that salad.
4-5 large ripe tomatoes, cut into bite-sized chunks
1 medium onion, cut in half and thinly sliced
4 cloves of garlic, sliced
2 stalks celery, diced
1 small cucumber, peeled and thinly sliced
3 tablespoons fresh basil, chopped
2 tablespoons fresh oregano, chopped
1 teaspoon salt
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
Combine ingredients into a large bowl and toss well. Adjust seasoning to your tastes. Refrigerate for at least an hour to blend flavors.
Note: if you don't have access to enough fresh basil or oregano, you can supplement with dried herbs, but remember, fresh is best.