Unless you have a greenhouse, the Pacific Northwest, where I live, is a dispiriting place to try to grow tomatoes. It’s just not hot enough, the heat waves in other parts of the country this year notwithstanding. Lettuce, kale, cabbage? No problem. They love the cool and thrive. But homegrown tomatoes? You’re lucky to get them out here before school starts! And while I’m at it, does anyone know how kale became all the rage? It’s prickly and unpleasant. Kale must have a terrific public relations agency…
But I digress. The subject was tomatoes.
Cooking often features in my Davies & West mystery books, so I get a lot of mail from readers who want to know what I like to cook best. Often they want recipes from the books but they get upset when I say that I mostly just make meals up from what’s available in the season during which the books are set. Cornwall’s a lot like the Pacific Northwest—not too hot and often damp. Still, it produces so many gorgeous vegetables, meats, cheeses, and fruits that it is no wonder some of London’s top chefs have opened restaurants there.
But when fresh tomatoes finally come into season where I live (roughly a week before the incessant cold rain arrives) my mind heads south, to Italy, and to my all time favorite Tuscan white bean, tomato, and basil salad. Here’s how to make it:
Grab two or three very ripe local tomatoes (I like to add a yellow variety for color). Cut them into rough chunks, drop them into a large bowl, and sprinkle lightly with coarse Kosher salt. Toss and let them sit for twenty minutes to a half hour. The salt will draw out the excess water in the tomatoes. Drain but reserve the liquid. To the tomatoes, now add a little finely chopped sweet onion, minced garlic, a fistful of chopped fresh basil leaves, a bit more salt, and pepper, and a good glug of extra virgin olive oil.. Mix and let sit. Meanwhile, drain and thoroughly rinse a can of white cannellini beans and add them to the tomato-basil bowl. Again, let sit for a bit so the beans absorb the flavors.
You don’t have to, but I like to add sliced and browned mild Italian sausage, add a squeeze of lemon and more olive oil as a dressing, and then toss all of the savory goodies with baby lettuce. Serve outside, if it’s warm enough, with breadsticks, olives, and a chilled white wine or dry rose from Provence, and bask in the waning days of summer.
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