29 July, 2009

Love (them) Apples.

One of the finest things to put in your mouth on a hot summer's day is a fragrant chunk of cantaloupe. Don't refrigerate a cantaloupe unless you have an excellent pretext for slowing down its ripening, as the cold will only mask that divine flavor and distract from the clean (anything-but-mealy) texture. This is not about cantaloupe, however.

It is about why summer, mayonnaise and white bread came to be. If you can't already guess the answer, their collective raison d'être is the tomato. In any paean to the pomme d'amour, as the French used to call it, the exotic, well-traveled past of the tomato figures large. Considered to have first appeared in the Peruvian Andes, it spread across parts of Latin America toward Mexico, then started breaking hearts Europe-side, in Italy (of course) first, around 1550. It is unclear when it made the shift from ornamental plant to culinary staple in Italy. Being a member of the toxic nightshade family put the brakes on early widespread adoption of this fruit. Belladonna (or tobacco) anyone? Then again, eggplant and potatoes--another culinary staple, at least in some cultures--are close family members as well.

So people gradually learned that while all other parts of the plant are in fact poisonous, the ripe fruit is a delight unto itself.

It is one of my primary July-August-September pleasures, thus herein lies my difficulty. What dish do I possibly select to showcase this love song to the season? It is, after all, a central player in Mediterranean cooking. In France, among the innumerable succulent possibilities, it can be stuffed and baked à la Provençale; simmered, filtered and chilled for a consommé; sliced and paired with haricots verts in a vinaigrette- and garlic-laced salad; and oven-roasted as part of a classic ratatouille ensemble. In season, I can get from my garden and local producers so-called "heirloom" tomatoes. You know, the kinds of tomoatoes that taste as individual as their shapes, colors and names. The ones you never really see in a conventional market (often simply because they don't travel thousands of kilometers well). To this extent, it's heaven here for a brief spell. And when something is this good, I like to keep the dish as honest and pure as possible.So picture lightly salted tomato slices tucked into good, white bread which in turn has been slathered with homemade mayonnaise, a recipe for which you can find here. I take the particularly easy route and use a food processor, which makes for a moment's effort. Just don't do this if you are feeling impatient, because you have to add the oil very gradually.

Have mercy, this is comfort food par excellence; don't knock it 'til you've tried it. And oh, do please try it.

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