Thursday, January 19, 2006

Tomatoes (and la via vecchiata)


Tomatoes are summers gift. After a long winter, I do long for insalata di pomodori. Tomato salad.  For my father-in-law, I think this likely reminds him of the days where this was the standard summer lunch.  Made with tomatoes, still warm from the sun, and herbs he used to carry back to the house after working in the garden from dawn.

For me, it's simple Nonna fare, comforting and, with a few easy additions, it can be a meal in itself.  A tin of tuna in olive oil, an anchovy or two, a feathery mozzarella di bufala or a few sliced bocconcini all add flavour and dimension to this salad.

How to make one? Easy as. Pour yourself and your dining companion a glass of wine. Nothing too tannic, I like a nice light Barbera or my father-in-law's homemade wine hits the spot too.  For white, a decent Gavi or a more mild Sauvy, perhaps? If you have some Ciro, perfect!

Go outside and pick some parsley and basil. And, if you are not blessed with a garden full of sun ripened pomodori, try to find some ripened on the vine and have everything else at room temperature.

Thinly slice half a red onion (unless chunky is ok) and rinse in a bowl. Then coarsely chop two or three beefsteak tomatoes over (to collect the juices) and into the same bowl. Salt the tomatoes and onion. Tear herbs and add to the salad. Sprinkle over with a little dried oregano. (Drying your own is easy too.. and can make a very pungent herb. It can be a little bitter too so don't over do it. A quick and light sprinkle is all you need.) Drizzle with a good quality olive oil.

Ok. The oil.

If you can get your hands on a good Calabrese or Sicilian, they are simply without comparison. I'll have to scout for some brands that may be imported as I don't know if there are many (or any) to be found in NZ. Maybe at a specialty shop or import distributor. Typical southern Italian oils made from Carolea and Ottobratico are personal favourites. They are the perfect condiment contributing warm and subtle, almost buttery nuances, to pasta and bean soups, minestra, and similar dishes. Some prefer the peppery Tuscan varieties which are good and very popular in New Zealand as are NZ grown oils (go Waiheke Island).  All good choices if the liquid sunshine from Southern Italy is unavailable.

Oops. Rewind back to salt.. Adequate salt is essential. And no vinegar.  This might dismay the vinegar aficionados but the tomatoes should have enough acidity to convince even the most die-hard balsamic or wine vinegar addict. It simply isn't necessary and tends to get in the way of the wine.

Deciding on the addition of tuna, anchovies, a hot red pepper or cheese? Tuna in olive oil is best. Just break up a little in the tin and add. Anchovies are better if scraped a little to remove bones and sliced into long pieces. If using a hot red pepper, make sure all are aware of its presence and slice as you wish. Cheese is not a typical addition but can be used in or placed on the side. Mozzarella di bufala is perfection. Remove from the brine and set aside to temper before tearing/slicing. Usually reserved for insalata caprese, which is its signature dish, or pizza margherita, this mozzarella is sublime but regular cows milk bocconcini could be substituted if that's your preference.

Then all that is left is to gather are the essentials: a loaf of good bread (to tear and dip in the juices) another glass of wine, the bottle, and your dining companion. Take everything out to the patio and mangia!

4 comments:

Barbara said...

Sounds fabulous Mary. www.sabato.co.nz bring in a Sicilian olive oil but are currently out of stock.

Nina said...

Beautiful post.... I wish it were tomato season up here in California! I even have a tin of tuna in oil that I'm saving for something wonderful...

Mary said...

Leith Distributors here in Dunedin have a Sicilian oil called Torre Saracena, but currently out of stock too.

Mary said...

Thank you Nina,
Don't wait for tomatoes, if that tuna is readily available. An easy pasta con tonno is delicious. With a bit of tomato paste, capers, anchovies, black olives and tuna.. it is one of my favourite quick pasta dishes.
And I look forward to visiting Napa someday, thanks to you :)