Tasty Tomato Salad – Recipe and Rules:
One of the first dishes I remember eating in France was tomato salad. The French family I stayed with ate their lunch outside and it was usually made up left-overs from the night before, supplemented with various salads and fresh bread. Tomato salad featured frequently on the menu, but the tomatoes were nothing like the ones I was used to from home. Although we grew our own tomatoes, it was often hard to get them to ripen and the kitchen window sill acted as an informal greenhouse. In France the tomatoes came from local farmers and were bought on daily forays for food. They were kept in a big bowl in the kitchen, covered with a piece of white netting. And, they were always ripe, juicy and very sweet.
Transforming them into a salad though, was something else.
In France, the tomatoes were sliced, salted, put into a serving dish with a little crushed garlic, layered with very thin slices of red onion and then dressed with a vinaigrette of olive oil and white wine vinegar and with some finely chopped fresh herbs. Of course, back home in the 1970s we didn’t have olive oil, nor did we have wine vinegar. And however hard I tried, it seemed impossible to recreate what was a magical dish.
Now, it’s quite possible to get close, even if you are shopping from the local supermarket. You DO need some good olive oil, wine vinegar and the best garlic you can find. You also need to buy the ripest vine tomatoes you can find and then make sure you never put them in the fridge.
One trick I learnt recently while cooking on the Terroir trip through the Cotes du Rhone, with ‘Les Aventuriers du Gout’ was to drain tomatoes just a little, exactly as you would do with aubergine. Sprinkling your sliced or diced tomatoes with a little salt and leaving them to drain for just 15 minutes will help intensify the flavour.
This is a recipe you can experiment with. I like adding black olives, replacing the shallot with thin slices of red onion or with chives, using a lemon and oil dressing or a few drops of balsamic vinegar. It makes a great side dish for the barbecue. With the addition of a little cheese and some slices of crusty bread, you’ve got an easy lunch dish too. Best of all, even when it has been dressed it will keep for a day, covered and put somewhere cool (worst case, in the fridge but preferably in a larder).