I don’t know about you, but I just love home grown tomatoes. I haven’t had my own garden in years – too many moves to too many locations without the gardening space. But I’ve found a close second best – the farmer’s market tomato. These are not the tomatoes that have been grown in a green house. Nor have they been picked early to travel well. Nor have they been subjected to some kind of fake ripening process that makes them taste like a ‘real’ tomato. These lovely heirlooms have been grown on a farm, ripened by the sun, and hand picked just before being brought to market. These are no mono-crop variety. They come in a vast variety of colors, sunshine yellow, blood red, sunkissed orange, and eggplant purple. You might even find a few striped varieties if you’re lucky.
I can almost guarantee that these tomatoes will have blemishes – a cracked skin where the growth of the tomato came faster than the flesh could handle, sort of like stretch marks on a pregnant tummy, or a brown blister or two where the sun was just to strong. Trust me, the blemishes do nothing to harm the flavor. Even people who don’t like tomatoes have been converted when they try a freshly picked, local tomato, one that has never seen the inside of a refrigerated truck.
I don’t like to do anything real fancy with these tomatoes… they taste good just on their own, sliced and seasoned with a little salt and pepper. But if you must get a little fancier, why not go Italian and try a Caprese Salad?
All you need are two to three ripe tomatoes, a ball of fresh mozarella, and fresh basil. You slice the tomato, reserving the ends and any slices that might have a hard bit in the middle. Slice the ball of fresh mozzarella as thick or as thin as you like but try to make as many slices as you have slices of tomatoes, to make it all even. Grab a huge handful of basil leaves and julienne them. Yes, you could leave them whole but they have a lovely flavor when cut. I think it must release some of the oils.
Chose your favorite plate and drizzle it with your best quality olive oil. I mean the cold press, really fruity, peppery, green olive oil. If you’re not sure about it, smell your olive oil before you use it. If you get an old smell, like your oil has been sitting around for too long, it’s the wrong oil to use. You need something that smells great because you will taste it.
Sprinkle the plate with salt and pepper. If I was using store bought tomatoes, I would sprinkle a little balsamic vinegar as well. But we’re not doing that with these heirlooms. They don’t need that kind of kick.
Lay down the tomatoes slices and sprinkle with a little more salt and pepper. Layer each tomato slice with a healthy dose of julienned basil. Lay on a slice of cheese.
Remember those tomato ends? You have two choices… you could put them in your freezer in a bag for the next time you make vegetable stock. Or you could take the ends, cut out the hard core, and dice the rest. Use the diced tomato to garnish each slice of mozzarella. If you want to get really fancy, you could add a little more basil at this point as well.
Drizzle a little more of that great olive oil over the top and, voila! You have the best Caprese Salad in your neck of the woods. Enjoy!