POMODORO BASILICO SALAD

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I found this 1940s produce crate label for Dominator Tomatoes, used by the T.O. Tomasello Company of Watsonville, California, on ebay.  It features a U.S. fighter plane.  I got it along with several other labels featuring airplanes, thinking it would be cute to frame them for my then-young son’s airplane-themed room.

I never did get around to framing those labels.  Never finished collecting all of the state quarters with him either, but somehow we’ve managed to carry on.

This time of year, tomatoes do indeed dominate.  The tomato season in Houston is short, and the tomatoes are not pretty, but they taste great.  These heirloom tomatoes from the farmers market a few weeks ago were wonderful with sliced red onions and kirby cucumbers, drizzled with a little olive oil and red wine vinegar.

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Although the Houston tomato season is pretty much over, we’re enjoying vine-ripened tomatoes from other parts of the U.S.  My research indicates that Florida is the largest producer of fresh market tomatoes, whereas California produces almost all of the tomatoes processed in the U.S.  The USDA says that we eat between 22-24 pounds of tomatoes per person annually, with more than half of those tomatoes used in ketchup and tomato sauce.  And according to one survey, 93% of U.S. gardening households grow tomatoes.

The scientific name for tomatoes is lycopersicum (technically, either lycopersicon lycopersicum or solanum lycopersicum, depending on who you think is correct — oh, the controversies that arise in the plant-naming world!), which means “wolf peach,” and has its origins in German werewolf myths.  According to legend, the nightshade plant (tomatoes are in the nightshade family) was used in potions by witches and sorcerers to change themselves into werewolves.  When the similar, but larger tomato arrived in Europe, it was called “wolf peach.”

Tomatoes are believed to have originated in the Andes.  The word tomato comes from the Aztec “xitomate,” which means “round fruit with navel.”  So the next time your loved one refers to you as a hot tomato, don’t be so flattered.

Botanically speaking, a tomato is a fruit.  For culinary purposes, which, let’s face it, are far more important than botanical purposes, a tomato is considered a vegetable.  As I told my son, when he was studying for his theology final and trying to explain the difference between knowledge and wisdom:

Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit; 

Wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad
Well, they may not be great in fruit salad, but tomatoes — especially ripe summer tomatoes — are wonderful in vegetable salads.  Inspired by the Dominator tomato crate label, this recipe for Pomodoro Basilico Salad makes great use of the season’s fresh tomatoes, and really allows the tomato to be the star of this salad.  For the very best results, use a good quality olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

POMODORO BASILICO SALAD
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Recipe type: Salad, Vegetable, Vegetarian
Author:
Ingredients
  • 1 pint grape tomatoes, halved
  • 12 calamata olives, sliced
  • 6 large basil leaves, thinly sliced into ribbons
  • ½ of a small red onion, thinly sliced
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • ¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
Instructions
  1. Place tomatoes, olives, basil, and onion in a medium bowl. In a small bowl, whisk together oil and vinegars, and pour over tomato mixture. Stir gently to combine. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Just before serving, sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.

 

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You say to-may-to, I say delicious

POPPY SEED DRESSING

Memorial Day is a time to remember and give thanks for the many men and women who died while serving in our country’s armed forces.  Because it is observed on the last Monday in May, it has also come to mark the start of the summer vacation season, and many families use the three-day weekend to spend time together, often culminating in a backyard barbecue.

As I wrote last year, after WWI, poppies became a symbol of remembrance of soldiers who have died in war.  Wearing a poppy on Memorial Day has been a tradition in the U.S. since 1924.  With that in mind, I made Poppy Seed Dressing to serve with our Memorial Day dinner.  I’ll save the red, white, and blue food for the 4th of July. This recipe for Poppy Seed Dressing comes from the late, great Helen Corbitt’s Cook Book.  Helen had an illustrious career as a chef, cookbook author, cooking school instructor and lecturer, and hostess, but she is perhaps most often remembered for her days as manager of the Houston Country Club and the Zodiac Room at Neiman Marcus in Dallas.  Helen died in 1978, but her memory and recipes linger on.

Although Helen was often credited with creating the dressing, she was quick to deny it, but readily admitted to having popularized it.  According to her, it’s delicious on any fruit salad, and goes especially well with grapefruit.   I think it goes nicely with melon.  One of Helen’s most popular salads on her country club buffet was finely shredded red cabbage, sliced avocado, and halved grapes with poppy seed dressing.  A recurring theme in Helen’s cookbooks is her concern that “the men” like the food that was served at parties and gatherings, and according to her, men like this dressing — because I know you were worried about that.  Reportedly, “a few even put it on their potatoes.”  :)  Why not remember someone with a jar of homemade Poppy Seed Dressing this year?

POPPY SEED DRESSING
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Author:
Ingredients
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon dry mustard
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ⅓ cup white vinegar
  • 1-1/2 tablespoons onion juice*
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 1-1/2 tablespoons poppy seeds
Instructions
  1. Mix together sugar, mustard, salt, and vinegar in a medium bowl. Add onion juice and stir until combined. Add oil slowly, beating constantly with an electric beater, and continuing to beat until thick. (Helen advises: "When you think the mixture is thick enough, beat 5 minutes longer.) Stir in poppy seeds. Store in refrigerator.
*To make onion juice, place a medium onion in a mini chopper or blender and puree. Strain puree through a fine-mesh colander set over a small bowl to catch the onion juice.

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All decked out for Memorial Day.

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Come and get it, men!