There hasn’t been a summer of my adult life when I haven’t waxed poetic about tomatoes. Is there anything in the world like biting into a warm, sweet, juicy tomato, plucked fresh from the vine? It’s one of nature’s finest gifts. As I mentioned a few years ago, I have many fond memories of the tomatoes my grandfather grew when I was a child. It simply wasn’t summer until dinner included a bowl of my grandmother’s salad, made with the tomatoes Grandpa had grown in his garden. Josephine (“Nanny”) taught me that beautiful summer produce doesn’t need much in terms of “extras” to be enjoyed to its fullest. Her salad is a simple one, combining wedged tomatoes with extra-virgin olive oil, thinly-sliced Vidalia onions, fresh herbs, and salt. It’s a recipe that defines summer in my heart and on my palate, reminding me of warm evenings spent on my grandparents’ patio, and the abundance of love that was shared around their table.
With so many different and unique heirloom cultivars available at farm markets today, it’s easier than ever to create an artful tomato salad with a vibrant mix of colors and flavors. The salad photographed here includes selections from the “Cocktail Tomato Bar” at Sansone’s Farm Market in Hopewell, NJ (a recent find for me and a stop that I highly recommend if you’re in the area), and straight-from-the-garden organic tomatoes that my neighbor gave me. By tossing the salad and letting it rest for 15 minutes before serving, the salt will draw out some of the tomatoes’ juices, which will pool in the bottom of the bowl. Liquid gold, I tell you. Give me a wedge of crusty artisan bread for dipping and I’ve died and gone to heaven. We love to serve tomato salad alongside grilled meats and seafood, but I often eat it on its own, with a few slices of piquant, imported provolone or a round of burrata. Paired with cheese, tomato salad is perfect for a light lunch that is as beautiful to look at as it is to eat.
Speaking of natural beauty, how stunning is this maple bowl? It’s a one-of-a-kind piece that my neighbor made himself in his free time. Yes, you read that correctly! The wood grain is gorgeous, especially when you see it in person. Our families have been neighbors for over 20 years and I’m continually amazed by his talent and creativity. As kids, my friends and I were fascinated by his intricately-carved pumpkins at Halloween (all of us trick-or-treaters would take a break during our candy collecting excursion each year to learn about how he carved the designs). He’s always done beautiful woodworking, and I’ve most recently been awed by the handcrafted pens, bowls, and tables he’s made. It was an honor to be able to borrow such a special piece to showcase the tomato salad that is so dear to my heart.
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Josephine's Tomato Salad
- 1-1/2 pounds heirloom tomatoes, cut into wedges
- 1/2 sweet onion (Vidalia, if available), halved and thinly sliced
- 1-1/2 teaspoons fresh oregano leaves, chopped
- 1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme leaves
- 1/3 cup fresh basil leaves, cut into a chiffonade
- 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 3/4 to 1 teaspoon kosher salt, to taste
- freshly ground black pepper, to taste
In a medium bowl, toss tomatoes with onions, chopped herbs, olive oil, 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt, and a few grinds of black pepper. Taste for seasoning, adding additional salt and pepper to taste. Let stand 15 minutes for flavors to meld. Tomatoes will release juices. Gently stir before serving with wedges of crusty bread for dipping.