Sunday, June 28, 2009

rushing the seasons

i am very programmed, when
it comes to tomato buying,
to wait.
until the peak of august,
the beginning of september,
when tomatoes are at their
most flavorful,
most beautiful.
sure, i pick up pints of
grape tomatoes
year round, but for gorgeous
heirlooms? i stick to summer's end.

recently, while running
quickly to pick up a few things for
dinner, i stopped short at the crate,
heirloom tomatoes - first crop.
and they were not at all expensive.
it seemed a little unreal.
i walked by three times, before
deciding to break my rule.
once i started
picking them up
examining the globes
choosing the prettiest,
i realized something:
i was alone.

no one was pushing me
out of the way, or
even gently nudging me
to the side.
no one was fighting me
for the perfectly round
purple fruit i had just found
in the back.
in fact, no one even seemed
to be glancing in their
to me, this said one of two
either i was a fool for buying
these in june
no one else cared/understood/
paid any attention
to what they were seeing.

deep down, i was going with (A),
but i really wanted to
believe in (B).
so, i picked my favorite five,
took them home for a
photo session and then
stared at them for a week,
deciding how they would
be best utilized.
by the time i decided
on a panzanella salad,
it was a sunday and i wanted
it with dinner that night.
isn't that the problem with bread
salads? they were created as a
way to use up extra bread, yet
often they require actually
buying the bread in the first place.
so, i went out and bought a loaf.
when i came home, i cubed half
of it and spread the bread out on
a sheet pan, letting them dry out
or become stale on their own
in a low temp oven.
after looking at several recipes,
i decided to wing it
(i know.
this can either turn
your dish into
the most delicious, ever,
or be a
i set to work cubing the
tomatoes, almost sad
to cut through them.

ultimately, i made the decision
to seed the pieces.
this is something i never
would have done before
culinary school.
to me, it was always a waste
of time,
a bigger mess,
an obvious disposal of good tomato.
but, in school we experimented,
with the seeds and without.
it's true that the ones with seeds
had less flavor
were watery
didn't pop.
so now, a lot of the time, i take
out the seeds.
but what i did next, surprised even
me. i made the decision to
seed all the tomatoes into one
bowl, rather than into the garbage.
once seeded, i poured them into
a fine-mesh strainer over the
toasted bread and pressed all
the juices out. i had planned to use
water to moisten the cubes,
but at the last minute i thought,
this is how to maximize the flavor.

this was pretty much enough
to wet the bread,
but i tossed
a few sprinkles
of water in, just in case.
the rest was easy.
i stirred together a vinaigrette
of olive oil
red wine vinegar
lemon juice
red pepper flakes
slivered onion.
after i tossed together the
and freshly torn basil,
i let the salad sit for about
3o minutes to meld.
the salad tasted like summer
and a little bit like cheating.
besides buying
bread the day i was planning to
make the panzanella,
i bought heirloom tomatoes in
june. june! but that night,
when we sat down,
you could have told me it
was august. and i may
have believed you.
heirloom tomato panzanella salad
i used a loaf of paisano, a rustic bread. it was just slightly crusty on the outside, but when i squeezed, it had a little give. you can substitute for whatever bread you enjoy or would like to use up. also, i made the decision to keep the crusts on - faster, more rustic, prettier - but, feel free to trim them if you think they will bother you. if the bread is fresh, simply cube it and spread out on a baking sheet. toast 3-7 minutes at 225˚f, or until the pieces feel "stale." oh, and with the basil leaves, don't bother to count out 30 (unless you want to). instead, just tear them up and toss them in until it seems like the right amount.

1/2 loaf paisano (about 1 pound), cubed into 1" pieces
5 heirloom tomatoes of varying shapes, sizes and colors
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/2 lemon, juiced
1/2 small sweet onion, very thinly sliced and chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
kosher salt
cracked black pepper
3 tablespoons olive oil
30 fresh basil leaves, torn

place bread in medium bowl.

on cutting board, core tomatoes. cube tomatoes; then over bowl, remove seeds. once all tomatoes are seeded, place fine mesh strainer over bowl of bread cubes. pour in seeds, pressing to extract all juices; discard seeds. toss bread cubes with tomato juices to moisten. if they don't feel quite moist enough, run your hands under running water and flick bread a few times with water, tossing after a few flicks. you want the bread to be moist enough to absorb the dressing, but not soggy.

in bowl, whisk together red wine vingear, lemon juice, oregano, red pepper flakes, onion, garlic, salt and pepper. slowly drizzle in oil, whisking constantly. taste the vinaigrette - if there's anything you're not crazy about, change it or fix it now.

place the tomatoes in bowl with bread; drizzle with vinaigrette. toss mixture together until completely coated. add basil; toss to combine. season with salt and pepper, if desired. cover; let sit at room temperature 20-30 minutes.

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