Much as I hate to acknowledge that summer’s coming to a close, I know it is; and it has nothing to do with the fact that the days are starting to get shorter. It has nothing to do with all the back-to-school advertising. Or the fact that Toronto’s CNE (Canadian National Exhibition) opened yesterday.
It’s because yesterday, my cleaning lady brought me a paper bag filled with beautiful, sun-ripened tomatoes from her garden. She does it every year at this time. It is an end of summer ritual. And end of summer, means beginning of fall. I love the tomatoes. I love the fall. It’s winter I’m not crazy about, but I’m getting way ahead of myself here. So let’s get back to the food most people call a vegetable but is, in fact, a fruit: The tomato.
I have a love/hate relationship with tomatoes. I don’t like most of the tomatoes available in grocery stores — even high end ‘epicure’ shops. They look beautiful. It’s nice to see all the different varieties, colours, shapes and sizes. But you get them home and they’re tasteless.
So disappointing, because when a tomato’s at its peak there’s nothing more delicious. Which is why I love when my cleaning lady brings me samples from her garden. As for how I like them, my preference, when it comes to eating tomatoes, is exactly the same as it is for peaches — which you might remember from my Day 2 blog post, “Peachy Keen“:
Unlike most people, I don’t like tomato sauce. You’ll never hear me waxing poetic about the layer of sauce on pizza and how one restaurant’s is better than another’s. To me it’s just there, a necessary evil, to keep the rest of the toppings from sliding. Don’t like tomato juice, either. Or tomato soup. I never use tomato paste.
My idea of heaven is a tomato sandwich. But not just any sandwich:
Just picked tomatoes, still warm from the sun and cut in thick slices. Dusted with salt and pepper (health warnings aside, tomatoes need salt. Sorry.) Equally thick slices of really good bread. And mayonnaise. That’s it. And let’s not ignore the texture! The chewiness, and almost roughness, of the bread, contrasting with the creaminess of the mayonnaise, contrasting with the silkiness of the tomatoes. Gorgeous!! My mouth is watering as I write this. I’m now remembering my grandmother’s tomato sandwiches. They were extra good, because she made her own mayonnaise.
The tomato sandwich. A feast for the eyes and the taste buds. Best enjoyed outside, in the very garden where they were picked, on a bright, warm, sunny day.
Chilled bowls of chunky, spicy, fresh-tasting gazpacho also make me happy. As do garlicky bruschetta, with or without the bread, and any number of salads where grown-in-your-own-garden tomatoes are the star attraction: Sliced and served with bufala mozzarella, basil and very good olive oil … or topped with goat cheese and drizzled with excellent quality balsamic vinegar … cut in chunks with cucumbers, peppers, onions, black olives, feta and a simple dressing of olive oil and balsamic … or the way I had them in Florence: Cut in chunks and mixed with roughly torn basil and large cubes of rustic Italian bread that was grilled and rubbed with garlic and then all tossed in olive oil.
Then there’s my no-cook pasta sauce. Chopped tomatoes, finely-chopped garlic, and goat cheese dumped on top of just-cooked pasta. Mix in some olive oil, top with a few grinds of salt and pepper, add a basil leaf or two and you’ve got a lovely, simple meal. No need for cooking; and the heat of the pasta melts the cheese. Goes down very well with a glass or two of wine.
On the odd occasion when I do cook with tomatoes, I still keep it very simple. I love fish and this is a great topping for just about any type of fish you like: Cherry tomatoes, kalamata olives, capers and garlic. Saute them, very lightly and quickly, in some olive oil and a splash of white wine. The tomatoes should remain whole so we’re talking seconds here. Spoon it over roasted cod, halibut, snapper, grouper — whatever you like. It’s always a crowd-pleaser at my house.
I’m getting very hungry. And I’m also wishing I had my own tomato plant.