I can still remember my first tomatoes. No, that’s not a euphemism, and okay, they weren’t the first tomatoes I’d ever tasted, but they were definitely the most memorable. I was seventeen, and newly arrived in Italy that late-August day to begin my year as a foreign exchange student. At lunchtime, my host mother set a large ceramic bowl of quartered tomatoes on the table. The tomatoes were freshly picked from the garden behind the house, still warm from the sun, and dressed lightly with extra virgin olive oil and a sprinkling of salt.
I sat at the table, jet-lagged and bewildered, and savored the sweetness of the tomatoes and the peppery, herbaceous olive oil. The flavors were at once foreign and familiar, simple and nuanced. This, I felt sure, was the very taste of summer—no—of happiness itself.
Now that we are careening headlong into prime-time tomato season (seriously, how are we already in the third week of July!?), here are a few incredibly simple and delicious ways to enjoy summer’s tomato bounty:
With a couple of simple twists (frying the bread in olive oil to fend off sogginess, adding anchovies and capers for a salty kick), my favorite food writer, Diana Henry, lends a touch of the exotic to what is traditionally an Italian bread-and-tomato salad. Recipe here.
Summer Soup with Pistou
A(nother) Diana Henry recipe, from Plenty. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: if you only own one cookbook, Henry’s Plenty should be it. Straightforward, creative, and eminently practical, Plenty contains recipes for every season and every palate. This vegetable soup is hearty but not heavy, and the last-minute addition of fresh tomatoes imparts just the right amount of brightness. The recipe can be found at the bottom of this post.
I know. This is decidedly not a recipe. It’s certainly not cooking, for heaven’s sake. I’m including this tartine, though, because its simplicity is matched only by its tastiness. Spread leftover pesto or olive tapenade on a slice of whole wheat country bread, preferably one with a chewy crust, and dot the surface with goat cheese. Top with cherry tomatoes, then sprinkle with a generous pinch of salt and pepper for a rustic lunch that’s filling but won’t weigh you down on a hot day. (The last time I made tartines for lunch, I also made one topped with smashed avocado, a squeeze of lime, and lots of black pepper; the mellowness contrasted nicely with the tang of the goat cheese and tomatoes.)
There are so many ways to make the most of tomatoes. I mean, I haven’t even mentioned caprese yet. Summer is flying by, though, so however you plan to prepare them, get thee to a farmer’s market and pick up some ripe, sweet summer tomatoes, then mangia! Mangia!
Diana Henry’s summer soupe au pistou, from Plenty
Gently cook 1 leek, 1 large potato, and 1 celery stalk, all chopped, in olive oil for 5 minutes, stirring. Add 4½ cups chicken stock, season, and cook for 10 minutes. Add 2 zucchini, chopped; 8 oz. green beans, trimmed; 1¼ cups cooked drained navy beans; and 12 cherry tomatoes, quartered. Cook for 5 minutes, uncovered, then add 2 Tbsp. chopped parsley. Put 2 bunches basil, 3 garlic cloves, salt, and pepper in a blender, process and add ½ cup extra virgin olive oil. Top the soup with spoonfuls of pistou and grated Parmesan. Serves 4-6