Summer Tomatoes

Juicy, Versatile and Satisfying

Summer Tomatoes

Juicy, Versatile and Satisfying

I recently spent a week eating in restaurants.  I was on a short summer vacation in a nice place that had some excellent chefs.  But I quickly tired of eating someone else's cooking.  I got weary of the fuss, of the garnishes, of the extra salt that made my ankles swell.  Plus when you're in an unfamiliar city, as I was, even good-to-great restaurants can become a game of chance.  By the end of the week I was experiencing the odd sensation of being hungry at meal-time yet having no appetite. 

Because it's summertime, I also wanted to be eating food that's in season instead of from a menu put together months earlier.  I was craving tender green vegetables, soft lettuce leaves, messy fruit desserts, and most of all -- a just-picked tomato.  One of my most powerful taste experiences was the first time I ate a tomato right off the vine.  My mother had a small vegetable garden in our backyard and hoping she wouldn't notice, I took a slightly orange, still-ripening tomato off the carefully staked plant.  It was still warm from the sun when I bit into it, breaking through a tender skin into soft flesh and a juicy, gelatinous packet of seeds that were full of acidic flavor.  That moment was decades ago but I don't think anything has ever tasted so perfect.  Everyone's got their own madeleine and that tomato is mine.

When I reached an age that gave me complete control over what I ate, I began an annual summer search for the perfect tomato.  My rational side knows this is all about sense memory and no tomato can ever again taste that good.  Still, every July I begin the hunt.  A few years ago when heirloom tomatoes became stylish I thought this was the answer.  After all, anything that was that ugly -- and that expensive -- had to taste amazing.  Maybe some do, but not any that I bought.  I tried growing apartment-sized tomato plants but produced nothing that you'd dare eat.  I even bought a New Jersey tomato at Fairway and put it to warm on a window sill, pretending I just snapped it off the vine.  How dumb is that?

These years of buying and tasting have produced a tomato repertoire.  If, like me, you're filling your kitchen counter with summer tomatoes, here are some ideas for what to do with them:

 

Perhaps the best way to eat a tomato is standing in your kitchen, with a dish of sea salt at hand, leaning over the sink as the juice runs down your arm.  Trying to again be eight years old, tasting the summer sun.

 

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