I've Been Waiting All Year For These
After a couple of days of unsuccessfully trying to come up with the perfect way to begin this post (including sitting and staring at a blank computer screen for minutes on end), I finally realized that clever, flowery prose extolling the virtues of homegrown tomatoes to gardeners and foodies is totally unnecessary.
The tomatoes are ready. Enough said.
Either you get it, or you don't. (And if you don't, we need to have a serious talk as soon as possible.) So now that we have that settled, I'm going to skip the chit chat and simply tell you what I do each summer as soon as there are at least a few handfuls of ripe tomatoes out on the vines. I call it Summer In A Bowl, and it is so easy to make it can hardly be called a recipe.
To me it is the essence of summer. It's another example of the Less Fuss, More Flavor way of cooking I find myself turning to more and more. Over the years, I've simply learned that the better the ingredients, the less you need to do to them. And that, to me, is pure kitchen bliss.
So go find yourself the best tomatoes you can, toss together this basic recipe, and then let your imagination run wild—or simply eat it all up straight from the bowl with a spoon.
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Note: Any ingredient aside from the tomatoes can be omitted.
Onions or Scallions
Fresh Garlic or Good Garlic Powder
Salt & Pepper to taste
If desired, slice the ends off the tomatoes and squeeze out the seeds and some of the juice. (No matter what, you will end up with quite a bit of rich, scrumptious juice in the bottom your bowl. I don't waste a drop, usually slurping it up like soup, but for slightly less sloppy serving purposes you can always dish it up with a slotted spoon.)
Chop up the tomatoes and onions however you like and place them in a large bowl. An assortment of tomatoes will add color and flavor (I prefer heirloom varieties). For this batch, I used finely chopped purple onion from the garden and loved those bright spots of color, too. Add the chopped basil and oregano, plus olive oil and vinegar to taste. (I use just a splash each of extra-virgin olive oil and white balsamic vinegar.)
Toss in some chopped garlic or garlic powder (click here to learn about my source for top quality herbs and spices at amazingly low prices), and some good salt & pepper to taste. Stir everything together with a large spoon until thoroughly combined.
Now you can stop right here and have a perfectly delightful dish that will taste wonderful served alongside everything from steak to shrimp to salami and cheese sandwiches. (It will also look its best if served right away.) But if you allow it to sit at room temperature for a couple of hours, something truly magical will happen to this simple concoction as it mellows on the counter. Just leave the spoon in the bowl (if you dare) and give it a good stir every once in a while. (Refrigerating tomatoes—whether whole or cut up—will always, always steal away some of their flavor.)
You will probably be quite content to eat several dozen servings of this before you begin to think about what other things you might do with it. But this is where the real fun begins. Here are enough ideas to keep you chopping up and celebrating your bounty of garden fresh tomatoes (no matter whose garden they come from) for the rest of the summer.
The easiest thing to do is to add one special ingredient to the basic mix. Almost anything you love will work. This time I used a few Oil Cured Moroccan Olives I discovered languishing in a jar in the fridge. I chopped them into tiny pieces and their pungent flavor and super saltiness provided just the right touch. You could also add practically any other kind of olives, or some of those beautiful fresh caper berries you can sometimes find on gourmet olive bars. Or chopped anchovies or a smidge of anchovy paste. Or a handful of pinenuts. Some freshly chopped sweet red pepper or a few roasted red peppers from a jar would slide right in quite nicely.
You could add cheese, such as freshly grated pecorino romano or some of those baby mozzarella balls that come swimming in delightfully herby olive oil. Stir in crumbled up feta with kalmata olives, or chunks of rosy pink leftover roast leg of lamb and diced sharp cheddar. You could even toss in some day old cubed French or Italian bread or a can of garbanzo or Great Northern beans.
What you do not want to add to this dish are cucumbers. We are not making Greek Salad (which I also happen to adore). We are celebrating the tomato in all of its seasonal glory, and the cucumbers will only steal away some of the limelight from the true star of the show. There are no supporting actors in this dish--only a glorious background chorus of perfectly cast characters. (No, I don't have a single cucumber in the garden yet, but really, that is not why I am declaring them cuca non grata in this recipe. Honest.)
And how to serve it besides straight out of the bowl? On toasted baguette slices or next to a plate of eggs. Tossed with homemade fettuccine or a package of pasta spirals. Piled on a bed of fresh greens with big garlic croutons and freshly grated parmesan reggiano sprinkled on top. Stirred into some nice cooked lentils or a stash of leftover rice. Spooned into warm homemade pita breads.
I warned you the possiblities are endless. Enjoy.
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