Thursday, January 19, 2006
Tomatoes (and la via vecchiata)
Tomatoes are summers gift. After a long winter, how I long for insalata di pomodori. Tomato salad. I think this likely reminds my father-in-law of 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 is simple and comforting and with a few easy additions, it can be a more substantial lunch.
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 savoury grenache shiraz or my father-in-law's homemade wine hits the spot too. 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, 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 Sicilian or Calabrese oil, 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). Maybe at a specialty shop or import distributor. Typical southern Italian oils made from Carolea and Ottobratico are best. They are the perfect condiment contributing warm, savoury and subtle flavours to pasta and bean soups, minestra, and similar dishes. Some prefer the peppery Tuscan varieties which are good and very popular in New Zealand and in NZ grown oils, however, I still favour the liquid sunshine from Southern Italy.
Oops. Rewind back to salt.. Adequate salt is essential. And no vinegar. The tomatoes should have enough acidity to convince even the most die-hard balsamic or wine vinegar addict. It simply isn't required and gets in the way of the wine anyhow.
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. 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 before 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 in a pinch.
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!