If you’re lucky, you live in a place where tomatoes are still in season. If not, hold on to this idea for next year and accept my apologies for being so late posting it.
We’ve had the best run of tomatoes ever this summer in Paris. Yes, the supermarket still has the same perfectly round, perfectly red, perfectly firm and sadly flavorless tomatoes they have year-round, but the farmers at the markets have had beauties – red and yellow and green, round, oval, palmable, petite, pointy-tipped, pleated and sometimes gnarly. And we’ve been like greedy kids with them, buying them daily and eating them at just about every meal, and sometimes just as a snack – there’s little better than a thick slice of a ripe, dripping-with-juice tomato sprinkled with fleur de sel, unless it’s that slice of tomato on a piece of buttered bread.
My daily tomato salad is a simple one: sliced or wedged tomatoes, salt, freshly ground pepper and a drizzle of olive oil. At the last minute, and depending on what I’m serving with the salad, I might add a few drops of thick balsamic vinegar (or Saba), some torn basil, some snipped chives or thinly sliced new white onions, rinsed in cold water (to remove the bitter ‘juice’) and patted dry.
If there are a few slices leftover, I save them – I can’t bear to toss something delicious – but the truth is, a day old tomato that’s been salted and vinegared and oiled is a sorry affair. But not an unuseful one: a couple of whirrs of the blender and yesterday’s leftovers become the ideal vinaigrette for today’s salad.
To make a tomato vinaigrette: Put the leftover slices of tomato – skin and seeds and all the liquid that has accumulated – in a tall jar (if you’re going to use an immersion blender), a mini food-processor or a blender, and whirr to puree. Taste and season, as needed, with more vinegar (it’s almost a given that you’ll have to add vinegar) and, if the mix isn’t as thick as you’d like, add more oil, too. Whirr again, so that you’ve got a smooth, shiny vinaigrette. Depending on what else is leftover in the fridge, you can add basil, olives (if you have tapenade, add a teeny spoonful) or even a droplet of honey – sometimes a touch of sweetness in something salty and sharp is just what’s need to bring everything into balance.
There are bunches of uses for the vinaigrette. Of course it’s good in salads and, if the salad has fresh tomatoes, so much the better. I’m not crazy about it tossed with a green salad, but I love it tossed with steamed vegetables, with a rice salad or, in fact, with any grain salad. And if you give the vinaigrette enough body and punch, you can use it over grilled meats and fish.
I love, love, love it in a roasted beet salad – that’s the salad in the top picture.
To roast beets: Scrub them, leave the tap root and an inch or so of the green on top, put them in a roasting pan with a little water, cover the pan with foil – punch a couple of steam holes in the foil – and bake in a 425-degrees-F oven for about 1 hour, or until you can pierce them easily with a paring knife. When the beets are cool enough to handle, peel them (a messy job) and cut into chunks.
I tossed the beets with chunks of tomatoes and, because I had it in the house, avocado. (I know, it sounds odd, but it was good.) I added basil and white onions, plenty of salt and pepper and the thrifty tomato vinaigrette.
Just as I was about to call it quits, I noticed that a yellow beet had escaped roasting and so I sliced it on a mandolin (a Benriner, really) and quickly fried it.
The salad was so good that I made it again the next day … no one complained.