Exterior shot of Chez T & J – the garden
T – Oh didn’t see you there. Welcome to the garden where the magic happens. And by magic I mean a regular supply of lettuce, zucchini, tomatoes, and peppers.
(Car passes by playing hip hop music whose bass line shakes the foundations of Chez T&J.)
T – In the Bay Area we’re blessed by our temperate climate where we have a year round growing season. In fact, August and it’s 65 degree here in Oakland. SO SUCK IT DC HUMIDITY! Oops, it’s not as if I spent the first eight years of my DC existence in nonairconditioned group houses. NOSIREE.
Anyway, it’s August and that means tomato season. J and I planted a bunch of heirloom varieties that include these purply thingies here, the big yellow ones, the small orange ones and the two I can name – the green zebras and early girls. With this plethora of tomatoes that you pick at the peak of ripeness, the best thing you can do is to make a tomato salad. Luckily, it’s also the easiest thing to do as well.
(cue interlude of Rebecca’s Old Timey Guide to Guideness)
So how to do pick a tomato at the peak of ripeness? Coming straight off the vine, it all has to do with feel. There should be just a bit of give in the tomato as you squeeze it gently. It shouldn’t been rock hard. The other sign of ripeness and this is true for tomatoes and other fruit is that when you give them a gently tug, they should pull off easily. No yanking please!
(cut to the T & J’s kitchen)
So here we are in Chez T & J’s kitchen. The best thing about a tomato salad is how pretty it looks. This is a composed salad when you strew the tomatoes about and lightly sauce them. In this case the sauce is simply a good oil (more about that later) and salt. The key to this salad is to do as little to the tomatoes as possible but highlighting the tomatoness of the tomatoes.
We’re going to do this two ways – a hardcore Italian way and a Latin way. The process is the same. You start off with a pretty platter (so no Augusta commemorative here). So you slice the tomatoes into wedges. Obviously these tomatoes are different sizes to you will have to cut them to be somewhat uniform in size to balance all the flavors.
(begin to slice the tomatoes in wedges)
You see tomatoes are like any quality food, they have nuances and tones. For example, this small orange tomato has a very intense sweetness to it. While this green zebra has an acidic tang. A good mixed tomato salad balances that all out and makes sure you have a variety.
Just artfully place the wedges of tomatoes on the platter to make sure no one tomato is dominating the plate. I’m using two plates today because I am doing this salad two ways. Before you do any variations, the next thing do you is sprinkle the platters with a light sprinkling of sea salt or any other kind of artisan salt. This draws a bit of the juice out of the tomatoes and rounds out their flavor.
Here’s where we get into variations. Plate #1 is the traditional Italian. On the salted tomatoes, pour a little bit of olive oil over the tomatoes. This is where you break out of the good stuff – the greener the better. On top of that, snip some basil with kitchen shears over the plate in an artful way. If you really want to go nuts, shave some nice hard Italian cheese on top. I would recommend a Sardinian Pecorino but Parmiggiano Reggiano will do.
Plate #2 is Latin style. Now J went to a winery and got me some cilantro infused grapeseed oil. While most of us don’t have an awesome husband who fetches artisinal oils for them, you probably can procure some Chinese chili oil. If you are using chili oil, mix it with so regular olive oil (not EVOO). Pour the oil on top of the salted tomatoes. This time tear some cilantro on top and them crumble over some queso fresco.
There you have it – tomato salad two ways. Now East Rebecca can I be on your show?