…They’re all tomatoes!
Like so many people I know who grew up in modern America, I had no fond feelings where tomatoes were concerned. As a child, it was the worst possible torture to be made to finish eating them in order to be excused from the table. Wedges in an iceberg lettuce salad were most often how they were presented. Exasperated parents paid $1 per bite in the hopes of introducing me to something “good for me” that they were sure I just needed to “try once” in order to love. It was a hard-won reward I remember that much. Holding my nose and gulping large quantities of water afterwards to wash each awful bit down.
I don’t recall the age I was when my palate changed but I do remember the catalyst. My Grandma Harris (an enlightened being and chef extraordinaire) served me tomatoes one afternoon when I had come for a sleep-over. I realized I had a split-second decision to make. Here I was with a plate of cottage cheese (okay, fine), hamburger patty (okay, better) and horror of horrors…sliced red tomatoes. This person whom I admired and adored and whom I would never, ever want to insult had just set before me a plate containing this masquerading vegetable…this devious “pseudo-fruit” I had previously ingested at home only after bribes and threats by my parents.
I suspect Grandma knew not to ask me beforehand. She must have been aware that (at my age) I still hadn’t developed a taste for them. No kid I knew liked them. Surely she knew. I’m certain it was a sly ploy on her part. Or, then again, maybe she just wanted to share her love of a particular food with someone she loved. In any case, I ate those tomatoes that day without any visible hesitation, without skipping a beat.
Not only did I fear being rude, but that humble meal was so artfully arranged and placed before me that I found even those treacherous tomatoes appealing. “It’s all in the presentation” as they say and that simple little dinner remains one of the most delicious memories of my life.
Fast forward to today and you will find me completely smitten with this delectable treat. My favorite version is the Italian way—in the form of a bruschetta topping (tomatoes, garlic, basil, olive oil, salt and pepper), heaped over toasted baguette slices or the same concoction tossed with unruly perciatelli pasta. And, of course, Caprese or burrata salads.
Living in California has afforded many opportunities to try different varieties from the local farmers’ markets. It’s so much fun to sift through the selection. Heirloom tomatoes are such an odd-looking lot–misshapen and multi-colored, they are definitely not the bland, super-market reds that many people know as “tomatoes.”
I particularly love the “pineapple” tomatoes in the first photo. I wasn’t planning this photo shoot, I just couldn’t resist running for the camera once I started to slice them into the bowl. Their look is truly deserving of the “fruit” category to which all tomatoes belong. They have the visual appeal of a beautiful peach or nectarine and they are a delicious balancing point for marrying sweet and savory ingredients in a dish.
Part of my love for Italy stems from how dedicated Italians are to using the freshest ingredients available. Produce is farmed locally and purchased daily for each meal. We aren’t always so lucky here in the States where many weren’t raised on the tradition of using fresh, locally grown produce. But, hopefully, more people are becoming aware of the benefits of this way of living. I know I so appreciate the local farmers markets in my area. I encourage you to support your local growers if you are fortunate enough to have any near you. Or, maybe even try to grow a few tomato plants if you can find the space–even just a container or two will suffice. There’s nothing like warm, fresh tomatoes right from the vine. Not to mention the gratification of growing your own food.
Today, as I lingered over lunch–sopping up the tomato juice, basil and garlic-infused olive oil with the last crust of bread– I not only felt satiated; I felt healthy and–dare I say?– uplifted.
You know? That “everything’s right with the world” kind of feeling? That’s a lot of power packed in one little fruit.
—Grazie Mille, Grandma!
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