Garden fresh, vine ripened, local tomatoes make me recall a vivid summer memory. My grandfather ("Nonno") on my mother's side used to tend a huge garden behind his house in Dorchester MA. He would take us back there to pick ripe tomatoes right off the vine and eat them like they were candy. They were warm from the mid-day sun and had a hearty aroma that only garden tomatoes have. My family made a tomato salad that everyone raved about - especially the rich juices that you sopped up with crusty Italian bread. (My Italian grandparents would say a dialect word that sounded like "woongie" to describe the sopping up ritual. I can't find the actual spelling anywhere!). I've done my best to resurrect those flavors in this recipe.
This recipe is not intended to be exact, so feel free to improvise and experiment. The key to its success is the quality of the tomatoes. If you have a few of your own tomato plants, you're golden. Otherwise, when shopping for them, try to find a farm stand selling their home-grown varieties, or seek out the "locally grown" sign at the supermarket. The popularity of "heirloom" tomatoes is a bit misleading - some of them are not so great if they were picked before they ripened, travelled long distances, and have been sitting around too long. Look for medium-sized, deep red, unblemished tomatoes. Hold them close to your nose and breathe deep - if they have a heady aroma, they are perfect for this recipe. Fresh basil is essential - if you don't have it, make something else. The mozzarella is optional, but a nice addition if you have it. Finally...don't eat it right away!! Let it sit and develop flavor and juice.
Toss everything together in a bowl and LET IT SIT for about an hour - in the refrigerator or on the counter. Toss gently just before serving. Serve with a large spoon that will pick up the juices with the salad and have lots of crusty bread on hand.
Recipes from the Road
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