I remember my childhood days, waking up to the promise of another perfect sunny day, running through open fields, chasing butterflies, and lying on my back imagining pictures in the clouds. Playing outside all day and evening, until I was called home for dinner. My parents were from Indiana and grew up eating corn on the cob all summer long. When they were in season, our dinners were often just fresh corn and sliced tomatoes, the very essence of summer. When I discovered Italian food, the idea of layering sliced tomatoes with fresh basil and mozzarella cheese, then drizzling them with olive oil and a sprinkling of salt and pepper, sounded like a perfect combination. It is like a pizza without the crust! All the flavors and so much healthier for us. I could eat it day after day.
I can’t wait for the heat of summer when fresh tomatoes hit the farmers’ markets. Baskets are over-flowing with gorgeous fruits and vegetables, and the plethora of tomatoes is almost overwhelming. Everywhere you look there are red, purple, yellow, green, and orange tomatoes. If you have only eaten red tomatoes, expand your horizons and try other colors. They vary in acidity and flavor and make a stunning salad. If you can find them, buy heirloom varieties. The regular tomatoes we see in stores are fairly flavorless and have been bred to withstand the rigors of transportation. They are picked green and shipped hundreds of miles. Heirlooms are delicate, ripened on the vine, and sold to local stores. If you remember the tomatoes of your youth as being lush and full of flavor, eat an heirloom and you will discover that joy all over again.
Jane’s Tips and Hints:
Always wash produce well before slicing – even melons! If you are in the market for a new knife, I suggest you look at a serrated knife specifically designed for tomatoes, not surprisingly called a Tomato Knife, LOL! They cut like a charm and almost never need sharpening. While a little pricey, they will last for years. I’ve had mine for at least 20 years and they are still going strong! Very versatile, you can use them for a whole slew of tasks. Always use a good cutting board when using quality knives – it will protect their edges and save you a lot of time re-sharpening! When you do buy good knives, also get a sharpening steel to use in between sharpening. It removes burrs and nicks and keeps the blade razor sharp.
Kitchen Skill: Chiffonade
Cutting Chiffonade. Stack basil leaves on top of each other and roll into a cigar shape. Holding the basil with one hand, carefully sliced very thinly into strips.
- Lemon Thyme Vinaigrette
- 1 shallot, peeled and thinly sliced
- 2 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
- Pinch of salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- About 1 tsp fresh thyme leaves
- 4 fresh, ripe tomatoes, in various colors if available
- About 1/2 lb fresh mozzarella, packed in water
- 2 small cucumbers, peeled and sliced about 1/4-inch thick
- 8 to 10 large basil leaves, cut chiffonade
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Minced fresh chives, optional
- In a small jar with a tight lid, combine the shallot, lemon juice, and salt. Shake until salt is dissolved. Add some pepper, the oil, and thyme. Shake again until emulsified.
- Slice tomatoes about 1/4-inch thick. Remove cheese from water, pat dry, and using a very sharp knife, slice as thinly as you can. If it breaks that’s fine. You can build stacks for individual servings by alternating tomatoes, cheese, and cucumbers, or serve family style.
- On a serving platter, starting at the outside, layer tomato, cheese, and cucumber slices in overlapping circles. Sprinkle with basil, salt, and pepper. Shake dressing well and drizzle lightly over salad. Sprinkle chives over the top if using. Pass remaining dressing at the table.
- Yield: about 4 servings