Aug 18, 2013

How to eat a tomato

When the tomatoes ripen, choose a bright, sunny day when the temperature is above 80F. Prepare for the meal by setting out a bottle of good, flavorful olive oil, a large shallow bowl, a knife and cutting board, and some good sea-salt on the kitchen counter. You can use a tomato shark for coring if you have one.

Step off your back porch, and make your way to the garden. Stand there with a self-satisfied smile, surveying the dark green leaves and ruby stems of the chard, the latest crop of radishes popping their shoulders out of the soil, the burgeoning bushes of basil, the beans, the cilantro, the chilis, even the disappointing eggplant. Let it fill your eye and your soul with pride. Cut off a stem of basil with at least 4 or 5 leaves, and pull some garlic if there's none in the kitchen.

At the cutting board chiffonade the basil (roll all the leaves into a tight cylinder and slice thinly). Peel, crush and mince a clove or two of garlic. Pour a couple of hearty glugs of olive oil into the bowl and add the basil and garlic.

When you're done, take a pinch of salt and step carefully through the garden to one of the tomato plants. (At this point I sometimes pause to think about how much better it is to tie tomato plants to stakes then witches.) Reach out and rub a leaf of the plant between your fingers and smell the scent left on the tips. That distinctive scent of chlorophyll and nightshade is critical to the pleasure of the eater. That scent is in the tomato, but it starts to dissipate as soon as the tomato is picked. Trust me you don't want to lose it. The hot sun beating down on the red, yellow, or brown globes intensifies the flavor of their flesh. So the following steps must be performed expeditiously.

Pluck a ripe tomato. Lick the skin. sprinkle a small amount of salt on the wet spot and bite it. You can taste the sunshine. Continue salting and eating until the tomato is gone. Drop the core on the ground.

Pluck two more ripe tomatoes and return to the kitchen. Core them (just get rid of the place where the stem attaches). Slice them about 1/4 inch thick and put them in the olive oil bath. Flip them to coat fully. Dust with a pinch of salt. Take the bowl and a loaf of crusty bread to the back porch and eat the tomatoes instantly. Use the bread to mop up the oil as dessert.

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