Thursday, July 31, 2008

Blast From the Past

When I was growing up, a lot of today's current food cliche's were very much en vogue. For example, whereas nowadays the average side salad is a nice mesclun mix, lightly drizzled with good olive oil and topped with olives, cheese, or some other tasty ingredient, the side salad of my childhood was a heap of iceberg lettuce and cucumbers held together by a delicate glue of gloppy blue cheese dressing. Three or four cherry tomatoes inevitably hung on for dear life, while the more colorful establishments peppered their salads with the ever impressive shredded carrot and sliced radish. But no cooking cliche was more prevalent in my heyday than the stuffed tomato. It was like the Jude Law of the 80's culinary landscape. It's prevalence led to my two-decade long distaste for tomatoes, which was of course, no fault of the tomatoes. The stuffing was rarely ever anything more than breadcrumbs and cheese, and the tomatoes themselves were under seasoned, hollowed out shells, roasted to within an inch of their lives.

Sadly, these omnipresent little suckers tainted my view of even the most delicious raw tomatoes, and for years I refused to eat them, no matter how fresh they were. Fortunately, as time passed and restaurants removed such heinous dishes from their menus, I was able to keep an open mind and succumb to the wonders of fresh tomatoes. Although I do insist that they be perfect in texture and flavor, I can now even enjoy a tomato raw, simply drizzled with olive oil and salt. I love them in their own salad, drizzled with balsamic vinegar and olive oil, and even served with delicious oil packed tuna.

This weekend at the farmer's market I picked up a beautiful tray of small heirlooms in the most beautiful rainbow assortment of colors. I was so excited to finally have a decent few to chose from that I didn't even hesitate. Of course we're not all the way into the season, so within the next few weeks I'll probably have a greater selection. I'd also bought a huge handful of very fresh basil and some lovely mozzarella, so the obvious dish to make with these wonderful tomatoes was a fresh caprese salad. There's no real recipe, and the proportions can be adjusted according to your preferences. I happen to like it to be heavier in the cheese department and light on the basil, so that's how I constructed it. A tiny drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, a good pinch of salt and several turns of fresh cracked black pepper were all it took to finish the dish out. I ate two huge platefuls for dinner and was more than satisfied (although I may have had some extra mozzarella afterwards...).

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