It’s August and it’s the high season of tomatoes. I didn’t like tomatoes as a kid…which I try to remind myself when my children turn their noses up at fresh tomatoes. Owen adores tomato sauce so I know that one of these days he will fall in love with fresh tomatoes the way I have. Leo? Well, Leo's a whole nother story but he is definitely a lot like me so one perhaps one day he'll moan in happiness at the scent of an August tomato as I have been known to do.
When you have a lot of tomatoes there are several things you MUST to do.
1. Eat a classic tomato sandwich. White bread (wheat if you must), sliced tomatoes, mayonnaise (Hellman’s people, Hellman’s), a little salt and pepper. That’s it. It’s juicy and it drips and it is heavenly. If you have NOT had one this summer go make one right this minute.
2. If you’ve already eaten your classic tomato sandwich then you might want to do what is basically an Italian salad version of it: panzanella. Get a nice crusty baguette and tear it into pieces. Let it sit a few days or toast it in a medium oven. Then make a vinaigrette and toss in cut up tomatoes, a bit of cut up cucumbers and even a little bit of slivered bell pepper if you like. Then, about 15-20 minutes before you want to eat just toss the bread and a handful of basil in with it all. Toss it together and sit and stare at it longingly until the juices of the vegetables and vinaigrette have begun to saturate the bread.
I don’t know about you…but I find this HEAVENLY! If you want you could have a bit of chicken or fish or what have you on the side but it’s pretty great on it’s own. You could also toss some cheese in it as well.
Here is our batch before we tossed in the basil….
In fact, you don't really need a recipe for panzanella but this one is a nice guide. I skipped the cheese and olives when I made it but I'm sure it's great with it. Oh, that's right, I didn't have any fennel either. Oh, and I only had one small green pepper rather than the yellow and red….. You see what I mean about it being just a guide, don't you? Oh yeah, I don't think I had that much lemon zest either….
- 4 cups torn pieces of sourdough or rustic peasant bread, 1 to 1 1/2 inches wide
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- Kosher salt and cracked black pepper
- 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
- 1 tablespoon drained capers
- 2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1 cup thinly sliced red onion
- 5 assorted ripe heirloom tomatoes, halved or quartered, depending on size and shape
- 1 red bell pepper, julienned
- 1 yellow bell pepper, julienned
- 1 cucumber, peeled, seeded, and chopped
- 1 fennel bulb, trimmed and thinly sliced, fronds reserved
- 1/2 cup pitted and halved Niçoise olives
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil leaves
- 1/4 cup shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano chees
Preheat the oven to 300°F.
In a bowl, toss the bread with the olive oil and salt and pepper to taste. Spread the bread on a baking sheet and bake for 7 to 10 minutes, until slightly crisp. (The pieces should not be as crispy as croutons.) Alternatively, spread the bread cubes on a baking sheet and let them dry, uncovered, for about 24 hours.
In a large bowl, whisk together the vinegar, capers, zest, and garlic. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Whisking constantly, add the extra virgin olive oil in a stream until well incorporated.
Add the onion, tomatoes, bell peppers, cucumber, fennel, and olives and toss with the vinaigrette. Adjust the salt and pepper.
Tear the fennel fronds and add them to the bowl along with the basil and bread. Toss to coat. Set aside for 20 minutes.
Divide the salad among 4 plates. Garnish each plate with shaved cheese and serve. If you prefer a moister salad, drizzle with a little more extra virgin olive oil.
3. Now you can move on to all the other classic summer tomato makings: sliced with a bit of salt and pepper, tossed with basil, with basil and fresh mozzerella for Caprese salad, just cut up with some cucumber, tomato and watermelon salad, salsa, BLT's…..you know….the kind of simple tomato dishes that you just do and you don't need a recipe.