Heirloom Tomato Salad with Basil and Garlic: Cheap Chic Recipe
Back to basics
As we all know but sometimes need to be reminded, some of the best things in life are the simplest. The French know this well and it's one of the things I like best about living in France.
Despite all the talk of "slow food", like everywhere in the modern world, the French have seen their cooking time diminish in inverse proportion to the growth of all the technologies that supposedly free us up for more leisure time.
They also face the same global price hikes on food that are being experienced around the world as the major "middleman" chains squeeze the wallets of both farmers and customers to fatten those of their shareholders.
Yet the French are as food conscious as ever. So how do they adapt their famous cuisine to reduced cooking time and skyrocketing food prices?
From their long culinary history, they know that a dish is only as good as the products that go into it. Rather than try to save by buying lots of cheap ingredients, they:
1.) Pare ingredients down to the essential
2.) Use only the best ingredients
In brief, they give preference in recipes to quality over quantity of ingredients.
All it takes to make a great tomato salad are great tomatoes
One simple summer classic in France is just plain tomato salad. So ubiquitous is this pure delight that half of all French doctor calls in the summer months are due to indigestion from tomatoes. Radios during vacation season bleat incessantly that it is important to 1.) drink lots of water and 2.) not eat too many tomatoes!
Tomato salad à la française could hardly be easier, or cheaper. But keep in mind, it's the quality of the tomatos that determine the quality of the salad.
To add colorful, flavorful flair, I've used heirloom tomatos here: yellow and red Coeur de boeuf ("beef heart" a variety of beefsteak), green zebras and an unidentified cultivar of "black tomato."
Granted they are slightly higher priced than most of the more readily available hard, flavorless greenhouse tomatoes many supermarkets push on us. But all you're buying (or if you're lucky, growing) are tomatoes, basil and garlic, so you still come out on top.
- 2 lbs / 1 kg ripe heirloom tomatoes
- 2-3 sprigs fresh basil
- 1 large or 2 small garlic Cloves
- 2 T. each quality oil & vinegar
- salt & pepper to taste
- Quarter small tomatoes. Cut large tomatoes in half crosswise before quartering. Leave in the seeds. The juices will mix with the oil and vinegar and add to the flavor.
- Finely mince garlic, removing green shoots if necessary as illustrated at knife point. Throw in with tomatoes.
- Gently tear basil into small strips by hand to avoid oxiding, setting aside the top of one sprig for decorationg. Throw in with tomatoes and
- Add a few dashes or two tablespoons each oil & vinegar, a pinch each of salt and pepper. Toss and serve.
Of course the French aren't the only ones who know simplicity rules. In a throwback to my American roots, I served this French tomato salad last night with a simply delicious three-ingredient mac & cheese.
But the salad works equally well with more formal fare like an elegant but simple Olive and Lamb Stuffed Whole Grain Sourdough Loaf.
A word on oil and vinegar
What goes for tomatoes goes for oil & vinegar. Quality counts. I've assumed for this recipe that you already have your favorites on hand. If not, it's something to investigate. You needn't renounce your favorite bottled dressing entirely, but quality oil and vinegar are often all you need to subtly enhance a salad's flavor.
Those of you who've read my other recipes know I have a thing for for this particular olive oil, which if you're in the market for a new favorite, you might want to try. A centuries old prize-winner, it is basil infused and best of all, than here in France, presumably because of the high VAT here! cheaper on Amazon.com