Sometime we chefs forget that sometimes simple is better. At no time of the year is this more true on the East Coast than summer. For us, it is the only time of the year when we have access to the locally grown produce we buy from far shores the rest of the year. And there is a huge difference in the taste of fruits and vegetables that have been picked ripe and lovingly carried to the farm stand and the stuff picked to ripen during travel or blasted with a mix of gases to extend their shelf life. Never is this truer than with tomatoes. Local summer tomatoes bare almost no resemblance to supermarket tomatoes. In fact, I am always reluctant to call those pinkish, mealy, tasteless balls, tomatoes. In the summer I am always amazed at the variety in color, taste and size I can buy. Especially at the roadside stands. Yes, the majority are red-because that is what people are accustomed to-but I find purple, black, green, yellow, stripped and pink. And many of them right next door at Hill Creek Farm from Farmer Doreen and Farmer Ben. What to do with the bounty?
Back to simple. When your ingredients are wonderful, they can stand alone without fuss…sometimes it is difficult for a chef to let go of the “prep” that is required for most food and let the unaltered whole food shine. This weekend we had an impromptu dinner for 9-I was teaching all day and didn’t have much time to prep. I made some cold salads and marinades for the protein the day before with the intention of grilling. Worked out great, but what garnered the most attention was the dish I didn’t cook, but simply laid out.
Here’s the basic method:
- Buy a nice variety of local ripe tomatoes, heirloom preferably. Get a variety of sizes and colors. This is a visual dish.
- Buy a nice softer cheese-mozzarella, burrata, goat, feta.
- Buy an excellent bolder, fruity extra virgin olive oil. I used one from Sicily that I bought on line.
- Get some Maldon Sea Salt flakes.
- Coarsely grind some pepper.
- Buy/pick the freshest basil you can find.
- Half the small tomatoes and slice the large.
- About ½ hour before you are ready to eat, lay them on a flat plate or tray in a single layer.
- Sprinkle with the Maldon salt and grind some pepper over them.
- Drizzle with the olive oil and let sit for 20 minutes.
- Meanwhile, julienne (thinly slice) the basil and slice or crumble the cheese.
- When you are ready to serve, place the cheese on the tomatoes(crumbles) or tuck in between the tomato slices, shower with the basil, drizzle with a bit more oil and serve.
What could be simpler?
To make this dish a show stopper, your ingredients MUST be excellent-no big producer mozzarella, supermarket tomatoes, no pale basil, table salt or lite olive oil. This is a splurge dish. But soooo worth it.