Let's Call The Whole Thing Off by Fred Astaire
Tomatoes, to-mah-toes - they're everywhere! The farmers markets are overflowing with every size, shape, and color and each jewel can either - or "eyether" play the star or co-star in every single meal! While they are the most fresh, I like to make them the star. And, luckily, making them the star requires neither - or "neyether" - great effort nor many ingredients. Win, win! Make like Fred and Ginger and dance on out to the garden or to your farmers market and get some today!
No tomato passed my lips without trickery or compulsion until I was 32 years old. I hated them. I ate ketchup and I ate canned tomato soup and some spaghetti sauces, but good luck trying to get a tomato into me in any other fashion. It drove my mother nuts. In her mind they all had the same tomato-ey taste. I firmly held that ketchup tasted nothing like those stewed tomatoes she liked to serve for dinner. It was the only food I absolutely refused to eat. No way. No how. Not gonna happen!
I still had to help grow the "detestables" in our family garden - which would lead me into a rant about why I should have to nurture and groom a plant that I would have no part in eating anyway. My father was firm, though, and off I'd go to weed those pungently stinky plants, grumbling up a storm! I hated tomatoes, I hated bugs, and I hated gardening!
Soooo - life has a way of changing things.
Suddenly, my adult self starts longing to have a garden and grow my own vegetables. And I'm actually grateful for my father's firm conviction that we know how to care for one. And my family loves spaghetti and I find myself growing TOMATOES to make the sauce - a sauce that I can stomach, that is.
I talked garden-talk with my friends and they'd talk about how they loved going into their garden and plucking a tomato off the vine and eating it right then and there. Their eyes would roll back and they'd swoon a bit. Really? Swooning? It took me several years, but I remember the exact moment I decided to give this "exercise" a try.
I had a great garden going that year and the tomatoes were plentiful. I grabbed my salt shaker and headed on over to the garden patch. I pulled the most attractive-looking tomato off the vine and stared at it. It was much like my lamaze training. My breaths were monitored - shallow as well as deep. The voice in my head is yelling "Just do it! Just take the bite! Now! Now!" And I did.
The heat of the sun had warmed up the juices and the explosion of that flavor squirted to every corner of my mouth. I did not throw up. I didn't even shudder. That was a very good start. It was not repugnant. I even finished the rest of the tomato - with salt helping me out. "Not bad," I told myself. Huh.
In the ensuing 20 years since, my fondness for tomatoes has grown by leaps and bounds. I grow them in my garden and around my patio, as well. Like these guys.
I swoon now. Yep - the eyes roll back and I swoon over a delicious tomato. And I can hear Dad chuckling himself silly every single time!
With the tomatoes showing up everywhere, I recently made a dinner for my husband and I that was very unstructured - and fitting for a balmy summer's evening. I filled a platter with fresh fruits, crostini, mascarpone, chèvre, mozzarella, and bleu cheeses, marinated olives, thinly sliced roast beef and prosciutto - and built it all around a bowl of fresh tomato bruschetta. I also added a jar of Apricot Clove Jam to the table to see how that would play with the other ingredients. We spent a wonderful evening creating all sorts of combinations.
The jam, by the way, played very, very well - especially with the prosciutto and some chèvre. I have a feeling that many more evenings will be filled with just such a dinner plan.
Fresh Tomato Bruschetta
makes 2 cups
3 small tomatoes, plum work very well
1 c. small tomatoes
1 T. balsamic vinegar
1 1/2 t. extra-virgin olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
Basil, sliced into ribbons (optional)
Cut up the plum tomatoes and seed them as well. Halve the small tomatoes - cherry, grape, pear, or heirloom work well. In all, you should end up with about 2 cups of cut up tomatoes.
Place cut tomatoes in a bowl and toss with the balsamic vinegar and extra-virgin olive oil. Now is the time to bust out the good stuff. If you have a special bottle of oil and/or vinegar, this dish is a great way to highlight those nice ingredients. Salt and pepper to taste. Basil adds great flavor and color. That's it.