“What is patriotism but the love of the food one ate as a child?” asks the great Chinese writer and thinker, Lin Yutang, in his lovely book The Importance of Living. I always think of that quote in summer when I replace “patriotism” with “nostalgia.” (For some reason I am most nostalgic in summer.)
As temperatures rise, blurry Polaroids of memory fill my mind: My dad’s sweatshirt brushing my ankles as I follow my brother down a sandy path; the first scents of salt as we drive to the beach; biking to our local swim club every day; the whir of old-fashioned (even then) metal fans in every room of our un-air conditioned house. And my Uncle Leo’s tomatoes. The very best beefsteak tomatoes ever, anywhere, in the world, came from Uncle Leo’s backyard. My mother ate them like apples, leaning over the kitchen sink. I liked them sliced thick with a tiny bit of salt. I’ve eaten a lot of tomatoes in my day, and while many are very, very good, I’ve yet to find any tomato at any farmer’s market anywhere, that compares to the simple deliciousness of Uncle Leo’s. Such is the core of nostalgia (or patriotism) – remembered pleasures often outweigh present pleasures. C’est la vie. (sips wine, stares into middle distance)
So when summer comes and tomatoes abound, I tend to doctor them up, either with a good soaking of balsamic, or in panzanella or bruschetta. One recent weekend I had bruschetta in mind when I veered a bit to the left and came up with this spread. Which is amazing. And versatile. And oh, so good.
I’ve called it Every Summer Day Tomato Spread, because you will want to eat it every day.
And it’s so versatile, you can.
Every Summer Day Tomato Spread
1 lb. assorted heirloom cherry tomatoes, halved or quartered if large (backyard, farm stand or farmer’s market are best)
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
2 Tbs. balsamic vinegar (more or less to taste)
2 Tbs. olive oil (more or less to taste)
1-2 oz. sundried tomatoes, not packed in oil (drained and patted otherwise) (I use Trader Joe’s julienned version)
3-5 fresh basil leaves (to taste)
Smidge of anchovy paste, to taste – optional*
Combine cut tomatoes, garlic, olive oil and balsamic in a glass bowl. Stir to combine. Let sit for about an hour or so.
Drain tomatoes, reserving the liquid. Pulse tomato mixture in food processor until chunky. Add sundried tomatoes and pulse a few more times. Add basil leaves and process to a spread consistency. (Stop short of a paste.)
Transfer mixture to bowl. Check consistency. If the spread looks dry, add a bit of the reserved liquid and stir. You don’t want the mixture to be too wet. Add additional liquid until desired consistency. (Leftover liquid can be the base of a salad dressing on another day.)
Taste – adjust seasonings (salt, pepper) and don’t be afraid to add a pinch of sugar.
Let sit for 15-30 mins and serve with grilled bread, crostini, or crackers. (If you have leftover spread, refrigerate tightly covered and let come to room temp before using.)
Yields about a cup of spread.
*I’m afraid of actual anchovies. If you are not, chop one up and add as directed, to taste.
- This is terrific as a topping for Spanish-style pan y tomate. Spread thinly on top of grilled or toasted bread that’s been rubbed with a garlic clove.
- Put a dollop on the plate with grilled steak – delish!
- Scrape an ear or two of grilled corn and add kernels to tomato spread – you get a kind of a relish that’s fantastic on it’s own or next to grilled meats or Italian sausages.
- Spread grilled (or toasted bread) with fresh burrata and a thin layer of tomato spread. Top with a leaf or two of fresh basil that’s been on the grill for a few moments. Pour a juicy red and close your eyes. You’ll be in Italy in seconds.
Leo would be very pleased to know how fondly you remember his tomatoes.