Tomatoes with a Backbone

It feels a bit early for tomatoes. In the Midwest we normally start seeing vine-ripened tomatoes in late August, sun-kissed, cherubic and plump. But well-tended greenhouses make access to delicious tomatoes a reality much earlier in the summer. I happened upon a few really good ones last week and jumped at the chance to eat them sliced raw with some coarse sea salt and olive oil just like we used to do in Rome.
They were so flavorful it took my breath away: Sweet, acidic, firm yet easily yielding to the side of a fork. It left me with an oddly unsettling nostalgia for my childhood. My mother is a skilled cook and has always understood the art of restraint in the kitchen. During the summer, she adorned our kitchen table with heirloom tomatoes lined up like soldiers on a thin wooden plank. Dinner during the hottest parts of the year usually involved tomatoes in some unadulterated form. Two of her favorites are BLTs and tomatoes vinaigrette, a strikingly simple amalgamation of raw chopped garlic and balsamic vinegar poured over warm pasta and tossed with chopped tomatoes and their juices. I remember that pasta tasting like summer.

***

Tomatoes Vinaigrette

Serves 4

  • 3 very ripe tomatoes, roughly chopped (save the juices)
  • 3 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 3 tablespoons good balsamic vinegar
  • 1 1/2 pounds rotini (any pasta shape with ridges or curls will do just fine)
  • Good olive oil to drizzle
  • Shaved Parmiggiano Reggiano cheese
  • A handful of basil leaves

Cook the pasta in plenty of boiling salted water.

While the pasta is cooking, roughly chop the tomatoes. Be sure to save the juices.

Using a sharp paring knife, mince the garlic by hand then soak it in the balsamic vinegar for a few minutes.

Drain the pasta. Transfer to a bowl and add the tomatoes with their juices. Drizzle the balsamic and garlic over the pasta as well as some good olive oil. Don’t be stingy with the oil. Toss by hand or use a large spoon to stir up the mixture to emulsify the tomato juices with the oil and the vinegar.

Garnish with some Parmesan shavings and torn basil leaves.