Fresh from the Garden
A garden-ripe, fresh tomato is the absolute ultimate in summer produce. Out of season tomatoes are flavorless rock-hard orbs shipped from some other hemisphere. Out of season tomatoes are nothing if not a pure disappointment. In season, tomatoes are bursting with flavor, juicy and luscious. Fresh tomatoes are only ever good in summer. There is nothing as wonderful as the full, rich, almost wine-like flavor of a vine ripe tomato. So, when it’s tomato season, I heartily endorse eating those glorious ripe ones as often as possible.
There’s not a gardener that hasn’t been tempted to devour one fresh off the vine, still warm from the hot summer sun. Southerners for generations have basked in the spell-binding glory of a Tomato Sandwich, the magnificent sum that is far grander than its simple parts of cheap squishy white bread that sticks to the roof of your mouth, sliced beefsteak, and mayonnaise. (BTW I am convinced tomato sandwiches are served as a welcome snack at the Pearly Gates — or at least the Southern entrance.) Salads made of thickly sliced tomato with sweet rings of Vidalia onion have been a key element in many picnics and now, with better markets and cheese selections, sit side-by-side with platters filled with sliced tomato, fresh mozzarella and drizzled with Balsamic vinegar. A slice of ripe tomato on a grilled burger transforms it from a simple sandwich to something spectacular. The holy trinity BLT can be truly rapturous. The month of August is high season, the perfect time to celebrate summer.
Tomatoes and Mayonnaise
In my opinion, there is nothing as wonderful as sliced tomato and mayonnaise with a simple sprinkling of salt and a grind or two of pepper. Undoubtedly, the star is the tomato, but the supporting actor that carries the show is mayonnaise. First of all, you have to recognize that mayonnaise is a food group in the South. And, let’s face it — Tomato Pie is mayonnaise and tomatoes topped with melted cheese. There’s a reason that heart attack on a plate tastes so good. While I now douse my tomatoes in olive oil and vinegar and sprinkle them with herbs, when I want that taste that instantly satisfies, I reach for a jar of mayonnaise. Just in case that’s not your thing here’s a smattering of other recipes for you to try:
Mashama Bailey’s Green Tomato Chowchow
Nathalie Dupree’s Tomato Conserve
Sandra Gutierrez Shrimp and Tomato Empanadas
Rebecca Lang’s Cathead Biscuits with Tomato Gravy
Ronni Lundy’s Tomato Pie
Anne Quatrano’s Tomato Toast
I’m sharing with you a recipe for panzanella. Panzanella is an Italian bread salad typically made with stale bread, chunks of tomatoes, and herbs. Some fancy Southern magazines and websites will try to make panzanella extra-Southern by making it out of cornbread. I like that fine, but I think we will all agree, there’s something magical about white bread and tomatoes — and you can’t get much more Southern than adding mayonnaise. I hope you enjoy it and let me know what you think!
Bon Appétit, Y’all!
- ½ loaf stale white country bread diced
- 2 large ripe tomatoes diced
- 1 cucumber halved lengthwise and thinly sliced
- 1 avocado diced
- 1 green onion sliced
- 1 small sweet pepper seeded, cored, and diced
- 4 slices very thinly sliced country ham or prosciutto chopped more for garnish
- ¼ cup mayonnaise or to taste
- ¼ cup chopped fresh herbs such as parsley, basil, and chives
- handful cherry tomatoes halved, for garnish
- Coarse kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Put everything in a bowl. Stir to combine. Season with salt and pepper. Transfer to a bowl. Top with some of the reserved ham and cherry tomatoes. Serve once the juices have been absorbed a bit, at least 30 minutes.