Summer’s Bounty: Tomatoes

Mid-July through August is sometimes referred to as the Dog Days of Summer, but for me they are something special, the Tomato Days of Summer. Right around mid-July is when the first of the tomatoes in my vegetable garden start to ripen, usually the Early Girl variety. As we roll into august the rest of my crop starts to come in, Better Boy, Costolutto Fiorentino, Park?s Whopper, and the prize of my crop Brandywine. I also plant a few cucumber and hot pepper plants, but tomatoes are definitely the main attraction.

During this period, I overdose on tomatoes, which is ok since I won?t even eat tomatoes the rest of the year. The thought of eating a mealy supermarket tomato that has ripened in a crate and/or been frozen in the dead of winter, turns my stomach. However, a fresh, just picked local tomato in the summer is something special. I pretty much alternate, between the following 4 tomato salads, using my best Extra Virgin Olive Oil in all of them.

Old School Tomato Salad: This is the tomato salad my mother always makes. Cut the tomatoes into wedges, dress with quality extra virgin olive oil, chopped garlic, fresh basil, salt and pepper. Toss it up well, then let it sit in it?s own juices for at least 15 minutes before eating. Make sure to have plenty of crusty Italian bread close by for sopping up the juices.

Sliced Tomato: The simplest of all, I tend to do this often with my favorite tomato Brandywine. These large beefsteak heirloom tomatoes with their pink flesh are so sweet, that they don’t need much accompaniment. Slice the tomato; arrange the slices flat on a plate, drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and sprinkle with coarse sea salt. That?s it, but if you have a nice sweet tomato it is sublime.

Tomato and Cucumber Salad: Tomato, cucumber, sliced sweet onions, fresh basil and oregano. Dress with olive oil and either balsamic vinegar or white Portuguese vinegar and season with salt & pepper to taste.

Caprese Salad: Tomato, fresh Mozzarella and basil the ultimate summer salad.

I also, plant a few plum/sauce tomato plants, this year I went with San Marzano, and a variety from a local nursery called Nana?s Large Plum. Every year I vow to can some of the plum tomatoes, but never actually get around to it. I do use them to make an excellent fresh tomato sauce during the season:

Fresh Tomato Sauce: Take 10-12 fresh plum tomatoes and with a sharp knife cut a small x into the bottom tip of the tomatoes. Bring a pot of water to a boil. Drop the tomatoes in the water, after 1 minute remove them from the water and peel the skins off. Cut the tomatoes into thin slices length-wise. Chop up half a small yellow onion. Heat 4 tablespoons of olive oil in a large saute pan over medium heat and add the chopped onions. Cook until onion is translucent, then add the tomatoes and salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a simmer and cook until sauce is slightly reduced, 15-20 minutes (remember this is a fresh tomato sauce, you don’t want to cook it for hours like a Ragu alla Bolognese). Tear up a few leaves of basil, stir them into the sauce, and serve on top of your favorite pasta, cooked al dente of course.