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Summer: Defined

August 23, 2011

Often, while my son is stubbornly picking through a serving of spinach, he will ask, “Mom, what foods do you hate?” (Answer: lima beans and cooked carrots). Conversely, while he’s digging into pizza or tacos, he will inquire, “Mom, what is your favorite food?” Although this may sound strange, I find that question difficult to answer – mostly, I think, because I associate the term ‘favorite food’ with something that one could eat almost every day without tiring of it, and although general food groups (like cheese) fall into that category for me, full meals do not. I enjoy variety.

And then summer rolls around, and my basil plant becomes prolific, and tomatoes recently picked at the peak of their ripeness appear at the farmer’s market, at roadside produce stands, in my CSA box, and on my doorstep (courtesy of friendly neighbors). And I remember that I can eat basil, olive oil, fresh tomatoes, mozzarella, salt and pepper – chopped up and quickly mixed together every day of my life and not grow tired of it.

Over the years I have been tinkered around with this most perfect combination by adding garlic, onion, prosciutto, and any other number of ingredients, but I’ve come to realize that with this, simple is better. The sharp basil compliments the acidity of the tomato, and the salt draws out the tomato juice which soaks into the mozzarella, softening it all the more. The pepper adds just a hint of spice, and the olive oil rounds out the body of the dish perfectly.

Once you’ve chopped and stirred, the possibilities are basically endless. Toss it into a pasta, as pictured below. Use it to top thick, lightly toasted slices of bread. Pile it on pizza or flatbread. Add in cubes of day-old bread and make a panzanella. Mix it with chopped chicken, shrimp, or steak and serve it in a roll or atop leafy greens. Eat it plain, and admire the perfection that simple ingredients can achieveWhatever you do, you can’t go wrong.

Not only does it taste magnificent and utilize the multitude of tomatoes and basil appearing in gardens this time of year, it comes together in a snap and requires no cooking – making it the absolute ideal summer food. It only tastes better as it sits and marinates, and although it doesn’t last more than two days in our fridge before we devour it I’m sure it would hold up for several more.

This is one of those things that is difficult to write an exact recipe for. You should always be generous with the salt here, but some tomatoes are sweeter than others and thus require a bit more. I realized that I had some extremely meaty tomatoes once I started dicing and only ended up using three of those pictured above. I think a tomato-cheese ratio of 4:1 is just about perfect, but you may opt for more of one or the other.  Taste as you mix, adjusting as needed, and savor the taste of late summer.

Tomato, Basil and Mozzarella Salad

The amounts listed are only guidelines – taste and tweak as you see fit

  • 1 to 1 1/2 pounds ripe tomatoes, cut into 1 inch pieces
  • 4 oz. mozzarella cheese, preferably fresh, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
  • 1/2 cup fresh basil, julienned or roughly chopped
  • 1/2 tsp. freshly ground pepper
  • 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1 Tbs. olive oil
Toss ingredients together in a large bowl. Can be served immediately, or prepared up to two days in advance.
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