A recipe for this style of salad is not really necessary; you just need to keep a few simple rules in mind. First of all, choose 2 medium or 1 large tomato per person, more if the salad will be the main part of the meal. Many chefs consider it essential that you peel the tomato, but I don't make this a hard and fast rule. When I am making a simple tomato salad for myself, I don't peel the tomatoes. Nor do I peel a bushel of tomatoes when I'm serving a group of a 100 if the tomatoes are of the best quality. Thicker-skinned tomatoes have been developed for commercial reasons, for the ease of storage and shipping, and these should be peeled (actually, they should not be used at all). Salads starring unpeeled tomatoes offer up summer's simplest, rustic pleasures; but if your tastes are more refined, feel free to peel them.
Next, you must slice the tomato through its equator not through its poles—that is horizontally, not vertically. You are making slices, not wedges. If you look at a tomato as a tiny globe, its blossom end is the south pole, the stem end the north pole. Its fat middle is the center, its equator. Cut the tomato in 1/4-inch slices parallel with the equator. Discard the pole ends and arrange the thick slices on a plate or platter.
Drizzle your sliced tomatoes with a little extra-virgin olive oil and add a sprinkling of kosher salt and a freshly ground black pepper. Be sure to have plenty of good, crusty bread on hand to soak up the delicious juices that gather on the plate. And, finally, vary the color and variety of the tomatoes in each salad for a more visually striking and more delicious effect.
Arrange the sliced tomatoes on 1 large or 4 individual plates. Drizzle with olive oil, and season with salt and pepper. Let the salad rest for 10 or 15 minutes so that the flavors can mingle, but be sure to serve it within an hour of preparation.
Italian Parsley & Garlic: Sprinkle 2 or 3 cloves of crushed and minced garlic and 3 tablespoons of minced fresh Italian parsley over the tomatoes before adding the olive oil.
Italian Parsley, Garlic, & Grated Cheese: Sprinkle 2 or 3 cloves of crushed and minced garlic, 3 tablespoons of minced fresh Italian parsley over the tomatoes before adding the olive oil. Scatter 2 ounces of grated hard cheese (Dry Jack, Parmigiano, Romano, or aged Asiago) over the tomatoes after the olive oil has been added.
Tomatoes with Shaved Parmegiano and Garlic: Sprinkle 2 cloves of crushed and minced garlic over the tomatoes before adding the olive oil. Using a vegetable peeler, make 15 to 20 curls of imported Parmigiano cheese and scatter them over the tomatoes.
Mozzarella Fresca & Fresh Basil: Tuck 8 slices (about 4 ounces) of mozzarella fresca here and there between the slices of tomato before adding the olive oil. Cut 10 to 12 leaves of fresh basil into very thin, lengthwise strips and scatter them over the surface of the salad.
Peppers & Cucumbers: Before adding the olive oil, scatter 2 or 3 cloves of crushed and minced garlic over the tomatoes. Cut 2 medium or 1 large lemon cucumber into very thin slices and tuck them in between slices of tomatoes. Cut 1 medium-sized, medium-hot pepper, such as a pasilla, into thin rounds and tuck them here and there between the tomatoes and cucumbers.
Lemons: Slice 1 lemon (Meyer's, if available) very thinly and tuck the slices here and there in between the slices of tomato before adding the olive oil.
Lemons, Chilies, and Cilantro: Cut 1 lemon into very thin slices and tuck them here and there between the slices of tomato. Remove the stems and seeds and cut 1 jalapeño pepper or 2 serrano peppers into thin julienne and scatter the peppers over the surface of the salad before adding the olive oil. Add the olive oil, salt, and pepper, and then sprinkle 1/2 cup fresh cilantro leaves over the salad.
Tuna & Lemon: Drain a 6 1/2-ounce can of imported tuna and scatter the tuna over the tomatoes before adding the olive oil. Add 2 or 3 cloves of crushed and minced garlic. Drizzle with the olive oil and squeeze the juice of 1/2 lemon over the salad before adding salt and pepper.
Anchovies, Onions, and Olives: Peel a medium-sized sweet red onion and slice it into 1/8-inch rounds. Add the onion slices randomly on top of the tomatoes and then drape 6 to 8 canned anchovy fillets, cut in half, over the onions and tomatoes. Cut the anchovy fillets in half and drape them over the vegetables. Scatter 3/4 cup pitted Kalamata, Nicoise, or salt-cured olives over the salad, and then add the olive oil, salt, and pepper.
Feta Cheese, Oregano, Olives, & Anchovies: Soak 8 anchovy fillets in 2 tablespoons of red wine vinegar for 30 minutes. Cut 2 ounces of feta cheese into small cubes and scatter it over the tomatoes before adding the olive oil. Add 1/4 cup pitted and coarsely chopped Kalamata olives to the salad. Drain the anchovies, cut them in half, and arrange them over the tomatoes, cheese, and olives. Scatter the feta cheese and the olives over the tomatoes. Add the olive oil, salt, and pepper, and then sprinkle 1 tablespoon of minced fresh oregano leaves over the salad.
Copyright 1996 by Michele Anna Jordan, author of The Good Cook's Book of Tomatoes. All Rights Reserved. Reprinted with permission.
Check out Michele Anna Jordan's latest book: The World Is a Kitchen: Cooking Your Way Through Culture
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