Just Three: Tomatoes, Chilis, and Parsley
Tuesday, September 14th, 2010
As I’ve already confessed elsewhere and at length, I’m a pretty lousy gardener, but – as with most things in life – luck trumps skill, and Lady Luck planted a big, wet snog on my tomatoes this year. Seriously, to judge by my Green Zebras, she might even have slipped them some tongue. If you’re lucky enough to live here in the 707, you already understand that tomato season can acquire near-mystical qualities, spoken about in the same hushed tones normally reserved for yield, brix, and how badly hosed the wine industry may or may not be in the latest rags, so I take this bit of fortune seriously: What can I do to flatter all this sexy fruit?
Yesterday’s project: Construct a complete tomato dish that even my kids would eat, using only three ingredients, all of which we grew. To hand: Tomatoes (Lemon Boys, not technically an heirloom, with their lower acidity and mildly tangy sweetness; and the aforementioned Green Zebras, their distinctive, racy zing a great match to the Lemons), chili peppers (Serranos, a great go-to chili for heat and flavor, and particularly good raw), and a bed full of herbs (a whole Simon-Garfunkle reunion of parsley, sage, rosemary, and culinary thyme, alongside basil, lavender, and chives), from which – basis the chili – I could have plucked basil, but thought the flat-leaf parsley a bit more interesting and marginally less obvious pairing. The clever if likely unoriginal (296,000 Google hits in 0.21 seconds) insight: A vinaigrette, described (as far as I know) by none other than Thomas Keller as “the perfect sauce”, consists of nothing but acid, oil, and seasoning. So, why not use tomatoes as the acid, for a tomato vinaigrette? (A truly excellent discussion of vinaigrettes, citing all my favorite cook-book sources and getting it right, can be found here.)
Tomato Salad with Green Zebra Vinaigrette and a Fresh Parsley and Chili Garnish
- Concasse a few Green Zebra tomatoes, maybe 1/2 to 1 tomato per salad (click the Foodista widget below for an explanation of the proper concasse technique) and, while slightly annoying, can be done in bulk, stored, and used later in any number of preparations). Seed, rib, and finely mince a fresh Serrano (or other red, say Arbol) chili pepper. Pick a handful of small leaves off the parsley.
- Push the tomatoes concasse through sieve or ricer or whatever to get a smooth texture and ensure that all the seeds have been removed (tomato seeds tend to add an unpleasantly bitter flavor and odd texture to smooth sauces) into a small mixing bowl. Season with a dash of white wine vinegar, finely milled salt and fresh white pepper (you don’t want black flecks in it).
- Whisk olive oil into the tomato base, in roughly equal proportions (a typical vinaigrette requires a 3:1 ratio of oil to acid, which would be fine here as well, but I prefer to let the tomato remain center stage, and its textural weight seemed to hold the oil just fine in this ratio), and adjust seasoning as required.
Spoon the dressing to cover the bottom of shallow pasta bowls.
- Cut the Lemon Boys, remaining Green Zebras, and/or whatever other tomatoes you have to hand (Tangerines, Cherokee Purples, and Early Girls would all look and taste phenomenal; you can’t go wrong, just try to balance the zesty acidity and color of the greens with sweeter, and yellow-red colored, cousins) into roughly uniform medium-dice.
- Sprinkle a little of the minced chili on the sauce and judiciously place the tomato cubes (skin-side up or not, depending on their look) on the sauce, adding a leaf of parsley to the top of a few of the not-green cubes.
As a speedier alternative, simply give the parsley and the whole tomatoes a rough chop, toss the tomatoes with the sauce, and then sprinkle the chili and parsley over the top.