It wouldn't be August in New Jersey without tomatoes. With so much shade in our yard, it was hard to find a spot to plant a real vegetable garden - something my husband and I grew up with and missed. We both came from Italian families where the entire back yard was given over to a vegetable plot. We finally succumbed last year to our yearning and dug up the decades-old yew bushes along the side of our house -- the only spot with sun at least five hours a day. We now have a bonafide vegetable garden in place of the shrubs.
Last year I saved some seeds from heirloom tomatoes we had eaten from a local organic farm, and we also planted some plum tomato seeds I had brought back from a trip to Italy. We nurtured the seedlings until they were strong enough to be planted indoors, covering them at night with plastic milk jugs whose bottoms were cut out, in essence creating little "greenhouses." to protect the tender seedlings from the night-time frost.
Several months after planting, those little seedlings are like the plants that won't stop growing, laden with tomatoes of all shapes and colors. It never ceases to amaze me how a teensy-weensy seed no bigger than a flea can produce a lush, sprawling plant bearing pounds and pounds of fruit (a tomato is a fruit after all). At this point, they threaten to consume us like the plants in "The Little Shop of Horrors." But oh, do they taste divine.
Nothing could be simpler or easier than making a tomato salad, but with so few ingredients and no cooking involved, everything must of of top quality, starting with the tomatoes. If you're not growing your own or don't have a friend who has offered some of his bounty, go to a farmer's market or the organic section of a good supermarket. For the first recipe of this blog, which is really more "assembling" rather than cooking, here is my version of a tomato salad. I have not indicated any amounts for the ingredients, since it really depends on how many people will be eating and what size tomatoes you have. In general, one large tomato and a quarter of an onion per person is plenty. For the vinaigrette, I use three parts oil to one part vinegar, but you can adjust as you want. Salt and pepper the tomatoes copiously. Preferably, basil should be ripped by hand, not minced with a knife, to avoid bruises and get the best flavor. If you really want to knock 'em over, add slices of hand-made mozzarella -- not the rubbery stuff in the supermarket that pretends to be cheese, but the artisan kind you buy at good cheese stores and specialty shops.
Needless to say, don't try this recipe in January.
Heirloom Tomato Salad
tomatoes, preferably heirloom varieties
fresh basil, torn by hand
kosher or sea salt, to taste
freshly ground black pepper
extra virgin olive oil