Those of you who visit this space frequently know this is not a cooking blog. Even though we both enjoy cooking, I’d have to say Andy is the real cook in terms of being more adventurous and exacting with his attempts. Gordon Ramsay’s recipes give him no pause. He’d probably even be able to tackle one of Thomas Keller’s French Laundry recipes. And believe me, mere mortals can’t even boil water Keller’s way what with all the triple straining and exacting French technique he demands.
So don’t expect the following to be a recipe in the classic sense. It’s more an experience with food. An exercise in getting you back to the essence of food preparation. A Tomato Manifesto if you will. It also has the virtue of standing in for a vitamin packed salad that even a fussy, non-vegetable-eating Englishman will enjoy. It also takes seconds to prepare (not including hunting down the ingredients which is the tricky part.)
While, again, I caution that this is NOT a recipe, it does have a history. As we’ve transitioned, at least part time, to Sonoma (organic vegetable capital of the world) and even started growing our own, our inclination has not been to cook more, but cook less. When we source the perfect organic peak-of-ripeness corn or other vegetable, our last thought has been to smother it with butter or cream. Or turn it into something mashed, pureed or otherwise adulterated. No, our thought has been to consume said vegetable in the most pristine, natural state possible. So that brings us to the ultimate in food preparation simplicity. We’ll call it:
Uncompromised Tomatoes Two Terrier
Start with the freshest organic tomatoes at their absolute peak of ripeness. Your best bets are Russian Black Crim, Beefsteak or another meaty, full flavored variety. Steer clear of the more watery types like many of the yellow varieties. They are good for other things, but you want a tomato that just slaps you in the face with its tomatoey tomatoeyness.
So get the tomatoes. Say one per person (if small), one for every two people (if large). Do not compromise. Bypass anything shrink-wrapped in plastic and styrofoam. Go to the Farmer’s Market. Or grow your own. And again, wait for that absolute peak of ripeness. You’ll feel it in the give and the smell of the skin.
Slice tomatoes in medium slices and lay out on a platter.
Now bring out the most wonderful organic, fancy sea salt you have. It can be flavored like Citrus Salt or Garlic Salt. But it must be that large grained organic and pure sea salt, the kind that comes in large crystals.
Now generously sprinkle sea salt over the sliced tomatoes. If you’ve brought the right kind of salt, you won’t be shaking it. This kind of salt doesn’t fit in a shaker. You’ll be taking pinches between your fingers and sprinkling it that way. Be generous. This isn’t that commercial salt with its chemically aftertaste. And the large flakes won’t dissolve easily, so the result won’t taste salty in the way a Big Mac tastes salty.
Let the sliced salted tomatoes sit for about five or ten minutes so the salt can infuse the juices. Of course, you know NEVER to put tomatoes in the refrigerator (it makes them mealy), so your whole platter will be a nice room temperature.
Just before serving, take out the most fabulous, fine, lightly flavored olive oil you own. Yes, put away those hearty robust olive oils — lovely as they are. They are not for this dish. I prefer something with a hint of lemon or lime. Whatever, this should be the most Extra Virgin Olive Oil you’ve been able to lay your hands on. Real virgin. Not like Bristol Palin or those Abstinence Pledgers who engage in every risky behavior BUT the Full Monty. No, we are talking Virgin of Guadalupe virgin oil. Lourdes virgin oil. You get the picture.
Just before serving, pour the oil into a tablespoon and carefully just drizzle a stream over the tomatoes. Don’t coat them. This is just a drizzle.
Now serve. And after the first bite, pause to savor what a tomato should taste like in the best of all possible worlds. The Platonic Ideal of the Tomato. The Essence of Tomatoeness.
That’s it. Preparation: Seconds. Compromises: Not allowed. If you vary in any way from any of these instructions, you’ll miss that Essential Tomato Experience.
I see the germ of a cookbook in this. Or maybe the germ of an anti-cookbook. Every recipe will follow the same formula. The absolute best ingredients and then MUCK WITH IT AS LITTLE AS POSSIBLE. Take that you butter and cream loving French!
Now lest you think this unrecipe is some vegan plot to get you to eat raw, here’s what we ate with it tonight:
Did I mention also that this unrecipe is a great way to get vegetables into a vegetable hater?
Note: While this recipe is named after Two Terrier Vineyards, terriers are probably the only ones who won’t love this dish.