By Barbara Beltrami
If we had a family crest, it would surely be the tomato. No matter the season, hardly a day goes by without tomatoes playing a role in one of our daily meals. Even in the winter we cook with good canned tomatoes and use campari tomatoes in salads and other dishes that call for fresh tomatoes.
Granted there’s nothing like a summer tomato, plucked still warm from the sun, sprinkled with salt and consumed on the spot. From tiny cherry tomatoes to the traditional Big Boys and beefsteaks to the ever more popular heirlooms, summer tomatoes are the true treasures of the garden. Although the cool temperatures this season have delayed their ripening, they’ve finally appeared in all their glory and I, for one, can’t get enough of them.
Sliced and doused with extra virgin olive oil, salt and fresh basil, they make an ideal lunch or side dish. Cut into wedges and tossed with cucumbers, red onion, an herb or two and feta or Gorgonzola cheese, they become the perfect salad to complement just about anything. Between slices of crusty bread and slathered with good mayonnaise, they make a tasty sandwich.
If you have any left over, here are a few unusual but simple Italian recipes in which they star along with their culinary mates, garlic and basil.
YIELD: Makes 4 to 6 servings
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups lightly pureed fresh tomatoes
Handful basil leaves, torn
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
4 to 6 large eggs
DIRECTIONS: In a large nonstick skillet, heat the olive oil, then add the garlic and cook only until it begins to color and release its aroma. Add the tomatoes, basil, salt and pepper and cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until excess liquid has evaporated, approximately 5 to 10 minutes. Spread tomato sauce evenly over bottom of pan. Carefully break the eggs over hot tomato sauce, cover and cook until whites are set and yolks are still runny. Gently slide the eggs and tomatoes under them onto a large serving platter and serve immediately with polenta or crusty bread.
YIELD: Makes 6 servings
2 to 3 plum tomatoes
6 large slices rustic bread
1 garlic clove, peeled
6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
DIRECTIONS: Slice the tomatoes in half; squeeze them to remove the seeds and juice. Toast the bread until light brown. Rub the garlic over the toasted bread, then rub the cut side of the tomato over the same side of the bread. Drizzle one tablespoon olive oil over each slice of bread; sprinkle with salt and pepper. Serve with cocktails, wine, beer or as accompaniment to any meal.
Penne with Uncooked Tomato Sauce
YIELD: Makes 4 to 6 servings
1 pound penne
1 pound fresh tomatoes, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
¹/₄ cup extra virgin olive oil
1 handful Italian flat-leaf parsley, basil or arugula leaves, chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
DIRECTIONS: Cook penne according to package directions. Meanwhile, in a large pasta bowl, combine remaining ingredients. Add hot drained cooked pasta to bowl; toss to combine with tomato mixture (the heat of the pasta just barely cooks the tomatoes). Serve immediately, warm or at room temperature with a green salad, bread and cheese.