Which is right? Which is better?
Who cares? That’s what the Slapdash Cook says. Point your Prius toward the nearest farmers’ market and fill your ecologically-responsible, brought-from-home shopping bag with succulent red tomatoes. Or equally juicy yellow tomatoes. Or even (these days) purplish tomatoes. Just make sure they’re mere hours from the vine and so ripe you have to handle them more deferentially than eggs. When you get home, DO NOT stash them in the fridge. And don’t resist temptation. Attack! Chomp down with those dentist-enriching white incisors and slurp! slurp! slurp!
Ahem—for more genteel immediacy, slice a plateful of to- matoes at the peak of ripeness, drizzle them with olive oil, adorn them with fresh basil (from your garden, I hope) and that’s it. A salad to die for. Impossible to improve on. On the other hand, if you have lamb chops or a steak in need of company for dinner, slice the tomatoes in half and cap them with a mix of parmegiano-reggiano, chopped basil and freshly ground black pepper. Five minutes under the broiler is all it takes to create a savory crust. To keep the menu painless and consistent with the season, pile a platter with corn on the cob (also just picked, of course) for everyone to gnaw on.
What else have I been doing with this season’s heavenly tomatoes? Toasted cheese sandwiches: aged cheddar crowned with sliced tomato. Or a generous grating of the same excellent cheddar (note to cheese snobs: a fine cheddar is not to be sneered at) plus tomatoes chopped finely with Videlias and Bell (also too often despised) peppers to fill a Sunday breakfast omelet. Add strong-brewed Sumatra, green chili sausage, a delicate flour tortilla, the Sunday paper and a sun-bathed portale: pure paradise. (Depressing headlines excepted.)
Ah, you say, this is too easy, even for the Slapdash Cook, who’s not illiterate, although she likes to putter around the kitchen as if she were. To that, I reply: there’s nothing wrong with easy when dining fresh from the garden. However, for kitchen slaves who suffer guilt from too much effortlessness, the recommended tomato magic for early September is gazpacho, the liquid salad from Spain. I’ve just finished blending my third batch of the year.
Here I must confess. When I first made gazpacho I was recipe-bound. Even so, it wasn’t easy. How large is a “medium” onion? How fat is a “large” tomato? As for garlic cloves, the size range is enormous. Just what does “three or four” cloves add up to in terms of teaspoons?
And then, as I gathered confidence, there was the day I was in the middle of a gazpacho and discovered I didn’t have red wine vinegar. Only white. And basalmic. Panic!!!! Boring or bold? I asked myself. Characteristically, I went for bold. Result: edible, but never repeated. The emergencies continued. Last week I’d brought home some sensuously perfect tomatoes, but the cucumber I recalled as hiding under the celery and carrots in my fridge wasn’t there. Also—sigh!—I had red peppers, but no green peppers. No problem! Get that blender going! As for today, all the requisite veggies were on hand, but I was half a cup short of tomato juice. Oh well! Carry on!
In short, start with the basic gazpacho recipe, then play. Want it sweeter? Go with red peppers. Want it milder? Increase the cucumber. Love the piquant? Double the garlic and increase the chili pepper or whatever you favor for the tongue tingling effect. It’s hard to imagine a substitute for the olive oil (Sesame? Ugh!), but there are vinegars galore to experiment with. Probably not raspberry, though. There are some experiments that even the Slapdash Cook balks at.
Oops! I almost forgot the croutons. Well, you'll have to make them yourself, but it's easy. Chop some good bread into 1/3" cubes--small is good, with croutons, toss with a bit of olive oil, scatter on a cookie sheet and crisp at about 200 degrees while the veggies are being blended. Spoon, according to impulse, on top of the gazpacho, along with diced cucumber, onion and pepper.
But the garnish isn't really necessary. Make things sinfully easy for yourself. Serve the gazpacho as a beverage. With those tomato-graced toasted cheese sandwiches. And for desert: sliced peaches. Assuming you haven't consumed them slurpy-style, which is how ripe peaches (and ripe tomatoes) were intended to be eaten.