Friday, September 11, 2009

Amazing Tomato Salad

I've never been a raw tomato lover until I met this salad. You will clear my salad plate and find a pile of uneaten tomatoes almost any time of the year. I love cooked tomatoes (mmmm, marinara sauce) but raw grocery-store tomatoes are almost always disappointing. That was until I learned how to dress them up a bit, and now this raw tomato salad is one of my signature dishes. If you've ever been to dinner at my house, chances are you were served this as a topping for bruschetta as a starter.

This is a great example of simplicity at its best. Tomatoes are cut, salted a bit, let to stand to concentrate their flavors, then dressed in extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar with some garlic and herbs. In this case my herb will be the fresh floral taste of oregano, but basil is classic. Most often I use this salad as a topping for grilled bread (classic bruschetta) but you could also toss in some cubes of fresh mozzarella, use basil as the herb and serve it as a deconstructed Caprese salad on the side of almost anything grilled. This would also be amazing over freshly cooked pasta (use plenty of salted water!) with a touch of extra olive oil to dress the dish right before serving.

Tomato Salad
serves 3 to 4 depending on how you serve it

2 1/2 cups cut tomatoes (here I used a pint of mixed cherry tomatoes but three or four Roma tomatoes would yield about that amount)
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt (or 1/4 teaspoon table salt)
1/2 clove garlic, minced or put through a garlic press (careful here, as the garlic can get strong since it's raw so use less if it's a big clove)
1 teaspoon minced fresh oregano (or 1 tablespoon minced fresh basil)
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
fresh ground pepper to taste

1. Put the cut tomatoes in a colander and toss with the salt. Let the colander stand over a bowl for 10 to 15 minutes to draw out some of the water and concentrate the flavor. Don't worry that the tomatoes will be too salty. If you taste one just after salting them, you'll think you've used too much salt. As they sit, the salt melts and they become beautifully seasoned. I've skipped this step but I do squeeze out some of the water and seeds when I cut the tomatoes so the resulting salad isn't too watery. If you do skip this salting step, be sure to add salt to the final dish to taste.

2. Place the tomatoes in a bowl, add the garlic, oregano, oil, vinegar and a few grinds of black pepper. Let stand at room temperature for at least 15 minutes before serving to let the flavors develop. This can be made in advance (but only earlier in the day) and refrigerated but bring to room temperature before serving.

If you are serving on top of grilled bread, be sure to spoon some of the juice at the bottom of the bowl on top of the tomatoes to let the bread soak it up. Delicious!