Friday, August 26, 2011

Confessions of a Tomatophile

The truth of the matter is -- and I tell you this, internets, in the strictest confidence -- I used to feel decidedly ambivalent about tomatoes. In the sense that, when I saw a tomato, I would often astutely remark: "EWWW, tomatoes." I was young at the time, and prone to sweeping culinary generalizations. Loud and sweeping. I was very young, after all. This was several months ago, at least.

No, seriously, I really didn't like tomatoes as a child, and after two to three minutes of soul-searching, I have decided it wasn't my fault. Because they were square, mass-produced, supermarket tomatoes bred to be shipped rather than eaten, without a trace of that amazingly addictive ripe-tomato aroma, and without a trace of the corresponding taste. Tomatoes to me were kind of sour, often mealy, reddish things that were apparently Good For You. I did not meet a real, fragrant, vine-ripened, glowing tomato until much later. And once I did, I announced (loudly, and with perhaps a modest hint of my old tendency toward sweeping generalization): "TOMATOES ARE THE MOST AMAZING WONDERFUL THING EVER IN THE SOLAR SYSTEM POSSIBLY GALAXY OR UNIVERSE HEY PUT THAT DOWN YES I AM PLANNING TO EAT ALL OF THESE GO GET YOUR OWN SALAD INGREDIENT."

This year, we are actually growing our very own tomatoes for the first time, which may or may not mean that I have been spending large portions of the summer seated cross-legged on the concrete next to them peering at them anxiously and muttering things like "Come on bee, go pollinate the flower. No, over here. Over here, stupid bee! Bee! Where are you going??" and "This stupid tomato plant doesn't even have any tomatoes. I think it's a dud. Maybe we should just pull it out" and "A TOMATO A TOMATO THERE'S A TOMATO" and "C'mon, stupid tomato, get red! Why won't this tomato get red?" and "LOOK AT ALL THE RED TOMATOES!!!!!!!!!!"

When you find yourself with fresh, fragrant, perfectly ripe tomatoes from your garden or farmers' market or CSA box, you can do many things, but here is the simplest and possibly still our very favorite.

Perfectly ripe, fragrant tomatoes
Good-quality olive oil
Kosher salt
Balsamic vinegar
Fresh basil
Freshly ground black pepper

Cut the tomatoes into wedges or slices. Drizzle with olive oil, and sprinkle with salt. Let sit for at least five minutes, and preferably 10-20 before serving (the salt draws out the flavor of the tomatoes). You can also sprinkle them with balsamic vinegar and freshly ground black pepper, and/or fresh basil leaves (whole or chiffonade).

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