Nature blesses perfectly ripe summer tomatoes with their own ideal dressing. Rich olive oil and a generous seasoning of salt and pepper are all that’s needed to bring out the sunny flavor of summer tomatoes and complement the sweet-tart acidity of their natural juices. This simple, unadorned salad is my favorite way to appreciate the succulent sensation of a summer tomato.
Vinegar can be a great friend to the less-than-perfect tomato to add missing brightness, but for summer tomatoes, I think the addition of vinegar upsets the balance of nature’s perfection. Like the fennel, orange and avocado salad, this salad brings its own fruity acidity that needs no supplement.
Thick tomato slices might make a prettier presentation, but I love piling diced tomatoes in a bowl so that I can enjoy every last drop of sweet juice with a chunk of crusty bread. It’s sort of bruschetta without the bruschetta.
The emphasis here is on the tomatoes, but a bit of good bread is a key complement. Like steamed mussels with their savory broth, this salad is all about the juice. The bread dipping is nearly as essential to the enjoyment of the salad as eating the tomatoes themselves.
You’ll want to find the best tomatoes you can. Farmers markets in the summertime can have excellent tomatoes, including wonderfully shaped and colored heirloom varieties. The texture and flavor of supermarket tomatoes are usually terrible, but occasionally I’ve been surprised by very good small grape or cherry varieties.
A fresh, ripe tomato should be heavy and smooth-skinned, firm but not hard, with some give to the touch but not squishy.
Dice the tomatoes, drizzle extra-virgin olive oil, sprinkle salt, grind pepper, stir. Tear some basil on top if you have it. Or fresh oregano would be lovely – it packs a surprising amount of flavor in its tiny leaves.
A perfect summer lunch. Thanks to mom, as always.
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Summer Tomato Salad
This isn’t really a recipe, it’s just a reminder that if your tomatoes are perfectly ripe, you don’t need a salad dressing. Rich olive oil and a generous seasoning of salt and pepper bring out the sunny flavor of summer tomatoes and complement the sweet-tart acidity of the their natural juices.
- Ripe summer tomatoes
- Extra-virgin olive oil
- Salt (preferably flaky kosher or sea salt)
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Fresh basil or oregano
- Cut the tomatoes into a 3/4-inch dice. Add to bowl.
- Drizzle a generous amount of extra-virgin olive oil. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Stir gently.
- Top with fresh basil (torn or chiffonade) or oregano.
- Don’t worry if you don’t have fresh herbs – the salad is still wonderful without herbs if your tomatoes are great.
- My mom’s favorite tomato variety is the early girl (also a favorite of Alice Waters). I also love the oddly shaped and colorful heirloom varieties at the farmers market, and on rare occasions I’ve been surprised by very good grape or cherry tomatoes from the store.
- Favorite adds: fresh mozzarella cheese, crumbled feta, crushed or sliced garlic (to add flavor; remove before serving).
- Of course you can slice the tomatoes as well, which can make a prettier presentation. But the diced tomatoes give off more of their lovely juice, which is heavenly sopped up with good bread.
Here’s the link to a printable version.
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