I grew up on an acre of land in a New Jersey suburb and we always had a modest garden. The soil was dark and rich and you could grow almost anything. We had a variety of vegetables and 8 fruit trees – Italian plum, pear, apple and cherry plus a grape arbor. My most favorite part of the summer garden bounty was the Jersey tomatoes. There was nothing like them; no flavor equal and I could not wait for them to mature. One year a friend, who had an amazingly prolific garden, suggested to my parents to add a bit of Epsom salt to the soil when planting tomatoes. My parents followed the advice and we had more tomatoes than one could eat and share with the neighbors, so my mother canned 80 quarts of tomatoes after work for weeks so we wouldn’t waste such abundance. We had no air conditioning in those days and it was horribly humid and I remember helping my mom can those 80 quarts and thinking that I never wanted to see or smell another tomato again. But the next year rolled around and I couldn’t wait for the new season of garden fresh tomatoes. During those summer months my mother often served corn on the cob and this Italian American tomato salad with dinner. It was one of my favorite things to eat and I loved dipping bread into the flavorful marinade fragrant with garlic and herbs. This salad is simple – you can hardly call it a recipe – but it is so good and is only fit to make during these short weeks with perfectly ripe tomatoes. It takes just minutes to put together and is a nice accompaniment to some grilled meat and sautéed greens. My Aunt Millie, my Dad’s sister made an excellent tomato salad using both white and balsamic vinegars so that is what I now do. I combined some beautiful heirloom tomatoes I received in my CSA bag from La Nay Ferme with some from my garden. The varieties of tomatoes include green and red zebras, yellow cherry tomatoes called snow white, Italian pear, Ramapo and orange moon glow. The red zebras were the size of cherry tomatoes, a hybrid that came up on its own from last year’s fallen seeds.
Fresh Tomato Salad
5-6 c. ripe, multi-colored tomatoes, chopped in large chunks
1/2 tsp. sea salt or more to taste
1/8 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 Tbsp. chopped red onion
1/4 c. extra virgin olive oil
2 Tbsp. brown rice vinegar
2 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
1 tsp. dried Greek oregano
5 basil leaves, chopped for garnish
In a serving bowl combine tomatoes, garlic and red onion. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Add oil and vinegars and toss, add oregano and toss. Garnish with basil. Have some crusty bread on hand to dip into the juices.