Thursday, August 6, 2009

IFF you get any good tomatoes this year, make this salad

As just about everyone knows by now, the Northeast is dealing with a serious tomato blight this year (this was written in 2009) , apparently caused by the same organism which caused the great Irish potato famine. Although not comparable in terms of sheer human suffering, it is still a real bummer. We usually get lots of tomatoes from our CSA by now, but haven't seen any yet and it is already August.

However, if you are lucky enough to get any good local heirloom tomatoes this year (or if you live in another region), you must make this salad. It is Neapolitan in origin, and in my opinion puts a Caprese to shame. I got the recipe from Pat, an engineer in the building where I used to work, whose family came from those parts. It can be made with almost any kind of tomato, or a variety. I like it with a combination of those dark Russian reds and the green tiger stripes, or whatever they are called, but experiment and use whatever looks best in the farmers' markets. It may be made with one kind of tomato or a variety, but they must be good fresh ripe local tomatoes that ideally have never even seen a refrigerator, let alone been inside one. It could not be easier. For four people,

  1. Dice in about 1/2 inch cubes about one medium-large tomato per person, or the equivalent in smaller or humongous ones, and put in in a serving bowl.
  2. Dice about 2 stalks of celery very fine (1/4 inch or less) and add to the bowl.
  3. Add about 1/4 to 1/2 cup red onion, shallot, or the white part of scallions, diced like the celery or smaller.
  4. Add a large pinch of crushed dried oregano. Use fresh if you want, but I kind of prefer the dried in this.
  5. Drizzle with good olive oil, and season with sea salt and a bit of pepper. No vinegar-- most tomatoes provide enough acid.
  6. Mix well and leave for about an hour if you can. Taste and correct seasonings.
This needs to sit a little bit so that the salt draws out the juices of the tomatoes, so ideally, don't leave this until the last minute. It is wonderful with a good crusty baguette to dip into it. This salad is beautiful served in a glass bowl if you have one the right size, particularly if you use a variety of different tomatoes -- light and dark red, green, orange, and yellow. Notwithstanding, what I said above in the intro paragraphs, leftovers are still OK from the fridge the next day, but not as sublime as when they are fresh.


  1. And I thought the "blight" was the record-breaking lack of sun and seemingly never-ending rain (granted, yesterday was the ultimate perfect summer day in Montreal). Made this last night with a variety of tomatoes, some heirloom, including the first ripe cherry tomatoes from our garden; surprisingly, they have some flavor and a nice acidity. You were right - no need for vinegar - and it was refreshing and delicious. Impressed our guests, too!

  2. Yes! Without the vinegar is much better than the way I was making it before. And letting it sit. This was dinner for a couple of days (the Grand Army Plaza farmer's market is apparently hoarding all the tomatoes--we've had lots all summer!)

  3. It is really good with homemade croutons......