A ripe tomato is a thing of beauty. I've been known to eat them out of hand, garnished only with a sprinkle of salt and pepper. But when summer's bounty is a bit too bountiful, I host my own tomato festival at home, with a menu that honors this humble fruit, and recipes that highlight, rather than mask, its flavor.
The menu begins with a chunky gazpacho that's big on flavor, but not on effort. In fact, with no cooking at all required, this is the perfect antidote to a hot day. And because this is a rustic soup, you don't have to worry if your vegetables aren't cut into perfect tiny squares.
When the heat gets oppressive, I like to plan lighter menus that don't weigh down my guests. Often, I skip the main course and just serve a couple of salads instead. For this menu, that means a classic pasta salad with tomatoes and fresh mozzarella cheese, and a simple tomato and sweet corn salad. The key to both is to use the freshest tomatoes that you can find.
Feel free to experiment with different types; visit farmers' markets to find heirloom varieties, and unusual shapes and colors. Since the tomatoes are the star of these salads, the more flavorful ones you find, the more flavorful your end result.
6 cups diced tomatoes (21/2 to 3 lbs.)
1 seedless cucumber, chopped
1 medium red onion, chopped
1 large green pepper, chopped
1 small jalapeño pepper, finely chopped
11/2 cups tomato or vegetable juice
1/4 cup finely chopped cilantro
3 Tbsps. champagne vinegar
salt and pepper
Combine the tomatoes, cucumber, onion and peppers in a large bowl.
Transfer just over half of the mixture to a food processor and purée until smooth. Return to bowl and stir to combine.
Add the tomato juice, cilantro and vinegar.
Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Refrigerate until ready to serve.
Pasta Salad With Tomatoes and Fresh Mozzarella
2 Tbsps. fresh basil, chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
4 cups cooked and chilled pasta, such as penne or rotini
3 medium tomatoes, cut into 1-inch pieces
3/4 cup chopped kalamata olives
1/2 lb. fresh mozzarella, cut into 1-inch pieces
salt and pepper
Combine the basil, garlic, olive oil and balsamic vinegar in a blender, and mix until smooth.
Combine the pasta, tomatoes, olives and mozzarella in a large bowl.
Add the dressing and toss to combine.
Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve immediately or refrigerate until ready to serve.
Tomato and Sweet Corn Salad
Queso fresco is a dry Mexican cheese available in the cheese section of many supermarkets. Ricotta salata may be substituted.
6 ears corn
3 medium tomatoes, diced
1 medium red onion, diced
4 oz. queso fresco, crumbled
1 medium jalapeño, finely diced
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
2 Tbsps. vegetable oil
juice of 1 to 2 limes
salt and pepper
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.
Add the corn, and cook until kernels are tender, 3 to 5 minutes. Drain and plunge the corn in a bowl of ice water. When cool enough to handle, remove the kernels from the cobs and place in a large bowl.
Add the tomatoes, onions, jalapeño, cilantro and vegetable oil. Toss to combine.
Add the lime juice -- 1 lime at a time -- tasting to achieve desired tanginess.
Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve immediately.
Serves 4 to 6.
Keri Fisher is a food writer and the co-author of One Cake, One Hundred Desserts. E-mail her at: email@example.com .