Unfussy Fare

Heirloom Tomatoes with Blue Cheese Dressing

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It started as a quest for cherry pie. Tomatoes weren’t even on my radar. I”d been pondering that pie for weeks. I did a cartoonish double-take when my favorite cherry stand at the farmer”s market was GONE. Someone was selling artichokes there. “Cherries are done,” said the friendly artichoke guy in reply to my accusatory “Where are the cherries?” And that was that. Cherries just up and called it a season, without so much as a nod to me or my pie-making procrastination.

I tried to be zen about it. For everything there is a season, etc. But I was not zen. I was petulant. I wanted cherries.  In mid-pout it hit me: If the cherries are gone, then soon raspberries will be done. Then blueberries. And then tomatoes! Oh no, not the tomatoes!

I forgot all about dessert. After rocketing through the stages of grief, I frantically combed the farmers’ market for heirloom tomatoes. I found half a dozen varieties piled in a box at an unassuming little stand. No long lines or artfully stacked produce here, just some grubby boxes set on a folding table. The farmer called out the variety of each tomato I picked up like a proud father.

With their uneven curves and motley hues, I just knew these tomatoes would have personality. And they did. You might say it”s wrong to put such a rich dressing on a perfect slice of tomato, when a sprinkle of salt will do. But tomatoes and mayo are a match made in heaven. Ask any BLT. Throw in the kick of Roquefort and a hint of vinegar, and your tomatoes and mayo will sing in perfect, high-cholesterol harmony.

Use a light hand when dressing the tomatoes. Not for your health (although there is that to consider), but for your taste buds. The dressing is so irresistible you’ll be tempted to pour it on with wild abandon, obliterating your innocent heirlooms. Eat the dressing with a spoon if you must, but go easy on those tomatoes if you want to taste them.

Carpe diem. Let the cherry pie tragedy of 2009 serve as a reminder. Tomato season has come, and it will go. I adapted this recipe from one I found in Barefoot Contessa at Home by Ina Garten.  It makes a fine spread for the world’s best BLT, too.

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HEIRLOOM TOMATOES WITH BLUE CHEESE DRESSING
serves 6

3 pounds heirloom tomatoes, plus some assorted cherry tomatoes
3 ounces Roquefort or other blue cheese
½ cup mayonnaise
1 ½ teaspoons red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons heavy cream
1 tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon
salt and pepper

Slice the tomatoes and arrange them on a platter. Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste.

Stir blue cheese, mayo, vinegar, and cream together in a bowl. Smash the cheese with the back of the spoon as you mix, to blend it in. You want the dressing to be chunky, so leave some lumps of cheese.

Drizzle the dressing over the tomatoes, and sprinkle with chopped tarragon.

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Cherry Tomato and Farro Salad

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Cherry tomatoes are the essence of summer, but do they have to be so prolific? I’m a little embarrassed for them. It’s like they had one too many drinks at a party and started singing. We have three kinds of cherry tomatoes in our garden. I suppose they have varietal names, but I call them greenish-yellow, bright orange, and greenish-red. You can use any of the pretty little tomatoes that are cluttering your life right now.

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What is farro, you ask? It’s some sort of wheat grown in Italy. If you’re like me, you skip right over recipes that call for ingredients you’ve never heard of.  I get that. I do. But humor me just this once. You have to do SOMETHING with all those tomatoes, right? Aren’t you sick of your go-to grains? Branch out! You won’t regret it.  I had to go to my very earnest, locally-owned, kind-of-expensive grocery store to find farro. The one that would be my regular grocery store if I were a better person.

(Word to the wise: Do not believe the kind employee of your local earnest grocery when she tells you that farro and spelt are the same thing. Look! You can buy spelt in bulk for a dollar a pound! Avoid evil packaging! Banish the massive carbon footprint of imported food! I fell for it. I felt pretty smug and green until I read in this New York Times article that farro and spelt are not the same thing. Not at all. So I DROVE BACK to the earnest grocery just to buy farro, at which point the carbon footprint of this meal was up to a size 18-EEE. If anyone wants a big bag of spelt, it’s all yours.)

This salad is summer in a dish. With so few ingredients, the flavors have enough room assert themselves as the lovely individuals they are. Farro is the perfect foil. It is just chewy enough, and just nutty enough to offset the bright acid tomato flavor-bombs. When you add chunks of manchego for richness, slivered basil, and a splash of olive oil and balsamic vinegar, you’ve got yourself a taste sensation. It makes a hearty lunch by itself. We’ve also eaten it as a dinner side dish, with grilled Italian sausages.

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Cherry Tomato and Farro Salad (serves four as a side dish)

  • 1 cup farro
  • 2 pints cherry tomatoes
  • ¼ cup basil leaves, packed
  • ½ pound manchego (or some other nutty but not-to-pungent cheese)
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar (or more to taste)
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt (or more to taste…Don’t skimp. Salt is the magic ingredient here.)
  • Fresh ground black pepper to taste

In a medium saucepan, cover the farro in water and soak for thirty minutes. Pour off the soaking water and add six cups of fresh water.

Bring water to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Simmer uncovered for about 25 minutes. Taste as you go to determine when it’s done. Crunchy isn’t done yet. Mushy is overcooked. You want slightly chewy. Don’t worry, it’s very forgiving stuff.

While your farro is cooking, slice the tomatoes in half, and cut the basil leaves into thin slivers.

Cut the manchego into half-inch dice.

Drain the farro. Rinse with cold water and drain again.

Toss drained farro with tomatoes, basil, cheese, olive oil, vinegar, salt and pepper.

Serve at room temperature.