Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Oh those Tomatoes!

Ode To A Tomato

There’s nothing like biting into a ripe and juicy tomato!  I remember as a child sitting in the backyard on a warm summer day with my mom sharing wedges of tomatoes sprinkled with just a pinch of salt and pepper. The juice dripping from our chins, and even though I had it all over my shirt, with each bite, we didn’t have a care in the world.  This morning, I made my husband and I a Turkey sandwich with lettuce, mayo and tomato. I had picked two ready to eat tomatoes at the store last night, which is a feat since most of the tomatoes in the grocery store are never as ripe as they should be.  I had already made his sandwich when I realized that the addition of the tomato would make the sandwich. And I was right - this tomato had extraordinary flavor - bursting with the exact amount of sweetness and acidity.  I mean POW! The flavors exploded in my mouth and possessed an exuberant level of brightness on the palate. It transported me back to that warm summer day with my mom. Is it interesting that little things like the taste of a tomato can recall your memories in a matter of seconds? 

I found myself wanting to chuck the rest of the sandwich ingredients and just have a tomato and mayonnaise sandwich. Not wanting to waste what I had started, I did make my own turkey sandwich and let me tell you, it was g-o-o-d! That little splash of red added an incredible layer of flavor.

Tomatoes are one of those fruits, or vegetables, (whichever way you classify them) that is an essential ingredient. They’re perfect in salads, sauces, tossed with pasta, or served simply with basil and fresh mozzarella. I can’t imagine a life without them.  I am inspired to go out and plant a few different varieties in my backyard, although, I have not had much success in the past. Every time I’ve started a plant, it always dies. But my husband will tell you that I am not afraid to keep trying... it’s one of the traits about myself that I kind of like having. 

Ripe tomatoes are the bomb... however, a unripe tomato, with the exception of green tomatoes are nothing more than filler. These little ruby gems add depth and richness to dishes.  We have to thank the Spaniards for discovering these South American treasures during their colonization of the Americas.  It is said that Spanish explorer Cortés may have been the first explorer to transfer tomatoes to Europe in 1521. Although, there are discussions that Christopher Columbus may have taken them back as early as 1493 – I’m not one to say who’s right or wrong, I’m just thankful that these explorers had the smarts to realize the importance of tomato.    A couple of interesting “Tomato” facts: Tomatoes were not grown in England until the 1590’s, in the Middle East, the tomato was introduced to cultivation in 1799, in British North America early references of being grown was in 1710 when herbalist William Salmon reported seeing them in what is known today as South Carolina.  One of my favorite revolutionist Thomas Jefferson had them in Paris and sent seeds back to America. He was an American genius and probably one of the first true sustainable farmers in the early days of America. But that’s for another blog.  {Historical references are from}

So now that I’ve gone off subject a little, to get back on track, one of my all-time favorite tomato recipes is my Bruschetta. It’s really a simple recipe...

Bruschetta Sara-style
5 to 8     Ripe Tomatoes – diced
5 to 6     Fresh Basil Leaves – Julienne
2 – 3       Cloves Fresh Garlic
Balsamic Vinegar
Olive Oil
Salt and Pepper to taste  
3 or 4     Fresh Mozzarella Balls
1              Baguette sliced

Dice tomatoes (I remove most of the seeds), place in a strainer and sprinkle with salt. Toss and let rest for 10 minutes. The salt will draw out most of the moisture.  While the tomatoes are resting, cut basil leaves into julienne strips, mince garlic and with tomatoes toss in a mixing bowl. I drizzle about two tablespoons of balsamic vinegar over the mixture, then add about a quarter cup of Olive oil. It all depends on how much ingredients, but I try not to drown the mixture in liquids. Unfortunately, I do not have a written recipe, so I eyeball adding the liquids.  I marinate the mixture in the refrigerator for a minimum of 1 hour to let the ingredients meld together.  While the mixture is macerating, I slice the baguette, and lightly toast on both sides in a low temp oven. 

To serve: top baguette slice with spoonful of bruschetta mixture, top with slice of fresh mozzarella and place on a cookie sheet. Once all the slices are completed, I bake in a 350° for 5 to 10 minutes to warm mozzarella.  This is a “heavenly” appetizer, I’ve found my guests can’t get enough... I usually have to make extra and have them waiting in the wings, because, they are always the first to go.  My husband loves this, says it’s one of my best dishes.  I can’t say for sure what makes this dish, the tomatoes have a co-starring role with the Fresh Mozzarella, both are super stars in their own right. But the garlic, basil, balsamic and the oil play superior cast members, without all the ingredients it would be okay, but not an award-winner. (Can you tell that I’m still in Oscar mode?)

I hope this dish will razzle-dazzle your guests. It’s a great appetizer; we usually have a carpet picnic with a bottle of wine and some candles.

Well, that’s it for today, I hope that in some small way, I’ve inspired you to go get some ripe tomatoes, and cook something extraordinary for yourself or someone special.

One more interesting fact... The French referred to the tomato as Pommes d ’Amour, (love apples) because they believed them to be an aphrodisiac. Vive l'amour !

As my French amis would say “C'est juste que bon” - (It’s just that good)

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