Friday, September 25, 2009

the last warm breath of summer

a couple of weeks ago i rolled up my proverbial sleeves, made a tableful of food and had some friends over for lunch.

my friend yao was visiting from chicago, so we planned a little late-summer college reunion in my tiny, overheated apartment. kelly and chris brought my favorite crumbs cupcakes, jr regaled us with a series of head-scratching riddles (have you heard the one about the midget peglegged clown?) and the beatles played on the stereo all afternoon. it was all so lovely it makes me want to weep a little.

but i won't.

we ate the tomato salad jon and i have been devouring all summer (i've never eaten so many tomatoes in my life), a tart, garlicky mix that makes even so-so tomatoes taste divine. the calendar says it's officially autumn, but let's cling to the last warm breath of summer, shall we?

the best tomato salad
serves 3 or 4, or fewer if your name is katie

1 baguette, cut into large bite-sized chunks
extra-virgin olive oil

2 large beefsteak tomatoes
1 standard cucumber, peeled and seeded
1/2 red onion, thinly sliced
1 fat clove garlic, minced
3 Tbs. red wine vinegar
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 Tbs. fresh basil leaves, torn
1 Tbs. fresh oregano
salt and pepper

For the croutons: Toss the baguette cubes with about 3 Tbs. olive oil, a generous grating of Parmigiano-Reggiano and plenty of salt and pepper. Bake at 375 degrees F for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, or until browned and crisp around the edges.

Meanwhile, cut the tomatoes into thin wedges, about 10 per tomato. Dice the cucumber into bite-sized chunks. Sprinkle the vegetables with salt and place in a strainer over a bowl or the sink at least 10 minutes to drain.

In a small bowl, combine the vinegar, olive oil, red onion and garlic. Season with salt and pepper.

When the tomatoes and cucumbers have released a lot of liquid, transfer to a large serving bowl and toss with the dressing. Add the herbs and croutons and toss again to combine.

For an extra salty flavor, stir in a handful of black oil-cured olives or small cubes of Asiago cheese.