We spent the last week in what I call the vacation trifecta: among beaches, wineries and farm stands. The vacation was supposed to be a reward for getting my book finished by August 1st. Instead, I all but tried to cancel the vacation when I realized I wouldn’t be done. Despite all of my practice over the last few months, I’m not very good at not finishing things. I don’t like going to bed with dishes in the sink, I’d rather stay up until midnight getting something done than have to start the morning with an old item on my to-do list and I did not want to go on vacation until I finished my project. Oh no. I did not. I might have even dreaded it.
Thank goodness we went anyway as we had fantastic vacation, I dare say the best one we’ve had since adding another member to our family. As it turns out, when the baby sleeps (in a bed! in a strange place! like a champ! who is this child and what did he do with Jacob?) on vacation, everyone gets one and it also turns out, when you’re really on vacation, any and all promises you made to yourself to get some work done go out the window. Thank heavens for that too. Other signs of a good vacation: I didn’t take many photos. I ignored the stack of recipes I’d bookmarked for Ideal Summer House Cooking (yawn). We went to a different winery every afternoon. I fell asleep with saltwater in my hair on at least three different occasions. I discovered that when my son sings the alphabet, for the P, and the P only, he closes his eyes, reaches his arms wide, tips his head back and belts out a giant “PEEEEAA!” I splurged on local feta and started making crunchy summery salads every night tossed with it and whatever could be diced raw. We had countless ears of corn and at least one lunch of tomato-corn omelets (have you done this yet? Because I’m obsessed with them). There was a birthday breakfast for my husband of skillet baked French toast. There was an accidental recipe of what I’m now calling sugar steaks, and making intentionally. Two batches of dry-rub ribs (a twist on Molly’s rub, McGee’s technique) in the oven, because it’s so, so easy that way. And my future fall obsession came to me early at our daily jaunts to the North Fork Table & Inn Food Truck: chicken posole. It was amazing; I promise to try to recreate it soon.
Finally, there were the s’mores. In my defense, I walked by this bag three times at the local grocery store on three different days before my resistance waned. I tried to have a proper, prim response to it — “How obscene!” “Why must we super-size everything?” “Well, that would just make a mess.” etc. It didn’t work, we bought them anyway and toasted them over the grill. I’m not sorry.
There’s an organic farm on the North Fork named Sang Lee that’s famous among the locals. Though hardly economical, the produce is amazing, but the thing I always haul back by the pound are their tiny rainbow tomatoes. As the type of person who color-sorts her cookbooks, I find the rows of baskets, each filled with a different shade of tomato immensely satisfying to gaze upon, and arrange in bags like bouquets. Perfect summer tomatoes need little to make them amazing, but I don’t think anyone has ever placed tomatoes near bread (pan con tomate, anyone? scalloped tomatoes?) and regretted what happened in the middle. Few salads are more dreamy than Tuscan panzanella, where toasted seasoned fresh croutons soak up the tomato’s deliciousness, but I’ve always wanted to merge them together like this, where instead of large chunks of croutons, you have a dusting of immensely seasoned breadcrumb-like crouton rubble coating each cut side of tomato. I insist that you only sprinkle your crouton fairy dust over the tomatoes close to serving time — a soggy lid is not the goal here — and enjoy the garlicky crunch with each sweet summery bite.
One year ago: Zucchini and Almond Pasta Salad, Raspberry Limeade Slushies and Sweet Corn Pancakes
Two years ago: Lighter Airy Pound Cake, Summer Pea and Roasted Red Pepper Pasta Salad, Lobster Rolls and Espresso Chiffon Cake with Fudge Frosting
Three years ago: Key Lime Meltaways, How to Poach and Egg, Smitten Kitchen-Style and Chocolate Peanut Butter Cake
Four years ago: Mixed Bean Salad and Brownie Mosaic Cheesecake
[New! Here we go!] Five years ago: Barbecue Sauce for the Barbecue Agnostic
Tomato Salad with Crushed Croutons
The recipe below is fairly basic, but in the realm of tomatoes and bread, there are innumerable ways to tweak it. For example, I’m having a love affair with crumbly salty cheeses this summer in the feta family; tossing the tomatoes with some fine feta rubble before dressing and crouton-ing them would be amazing. Mint might be a fun change from basil, and if you’re into neither, try flat-leaf parsley for a fresh but mild flavor. I am nearly constitutionally incapable of making a dish that involves tomatoes and not adding small white beans. I resisted today, but would not next time here. Minced olives would be at home sprinkled over the tomatoes, too. And if you’re not so into red wine vinegar, an aged sweet balsamic dotted over the tomatoes would be… I bet I don’t even need to tell you how awesome. Would love to hear how you tweak this, so let me know in the comments.
4 slices hearty white bread
1 small shallot, minced (about 2 tablespoons)
1 garlic clove, minced or pressed through garlic press
1/4 teaspoon table salt
Freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
1 pound cherry or grape tomatoes, mixed colors if you can find them
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 tablespoon mellow red wine vinegar (yours isn’t mellow? use less)
1/8 teaspoon table salt
Pinch of sugar
Freshly ground black pepper
Handful basil leaves, slivered.
Prepare the crushed croutons: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Tear bread into chunks and pule them in a food processor until coarsely ground (largest chunks can be lima bean sized). No food processor? Keep tearing the bread up until it is in ragged, mixed sized crumbs. Spread crumbs on a rimmed baking sheet and toss with shallots, garlic, salt, pepper, olive oil and parmesan until croutons are evenly coated with oil. Bake until golden brown and dry, about 15 to 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from oven and set aside to cool slightly. (Warm is fine, hot might wilt your tomatoes, boo.)
Assemble salad: Halve each tomato lengthwise and arrange cut side up on a platter. Whisk together vinegar, olive oil, salt, sugar and a few grinds of pepper in a small dish. Drizzle over tomatoes. Sprinkle tomatoes with crushed croutons. Garnish with slivers of basil.