Is there anyone on the planet who waits longer for their tomatoes than the nightshade gourmands of New England? I’m sure Scandinavians have to muster even greater patience than New Englanders, but are Scandinavians really into tomatoes? Evidence suggests they pine for beets and lingonberries and reindeer blood. National Geographic scientists billeted in the arctic undoubtedly wait longer for their tomatoes, but let’s face it–no one is growing tomatoes on the tundra. In New England we take our place at the very end of the line of tomato line, proud of our virtue.
My nephew Nicholas, who comes from Texas, has been staying with us while searching out digs before grad school begins. “We get tomatoes in June,” he blithely observes. “After that you need to cover up the plants or the sun burns them. Right now some cherry tomato plants are working on their second crop.”
Yes, well, hurray for Texas.
Jody converted me to eating raw tomatoes like the French, that is, peeled and sliced. Without their skins to contain their flesh tomatoes become an exercise in quivering succulence, with a promiscuous tendency to blend into surrounding ingredients. The sensation of peeled tomato in your mouth is analogous to peeled peach–you can eat both in their unpeeled forms, but after you’ve had the first why would you go for the second? You can’t toss peeled tomatoes in a vinaigrette, they’d simply dissolve. The accompaniments to tomatoes in this post’s salad are tossed and dressed apart, then spooned atop the tomatoes, which should be disturbed as little as possible between peeling and arrival on someone’s plate.
Nicholas gobbles down a third portion of this salad (he did ask, politely, if he were allowed). But I’m still not sure if he appreciates how treasured a treat this is in New England. “Buy a heavy coat,” I mutter. “Tomato season means winter’s just around the corner.”
Summer Tomato Salad with Grilled Corn and Barley
Serves 4 – 6
- 2 pounds peeled ripe field or heirloom tomatoes
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- ¼ cup + 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
- 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
- 1 cup cooked barley
- 1 cup halved grape or cherry tomatoes
- 2 ears corn, grilled, cooled and kernels removed, about 2 cups
- ¼ red onion, cut into ¼ inch dice
- 1 cup fresh herb leaves, such as basil, mint, tarragon, dill, parsley
- Combine mustard and vinegar together in a bowl and whisk well. Add ½ cup olive oil in a steady stream to form an emulsion. Season with salt and pepper. Add the barley, halved tomatoes, corn and onions and toss well. Taste and adjust seasonings if necessary.
- Cut the field tomatoes into ½-inch slices and shingle on a platter. Season with course sea salt, freshly ground black pepper and drizzle with 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil.
- Spoon the chopped salad over the sliced tomatoes. Sprinkle with the herbs and leaves.
Note: If you’re a novice tomato-peeler you can find lots of advice from Jody below.
Four easy ways to peel tomatoes
Use a “soft fruit peeler,” available in kitchen supply stores, with a special serrated edge designed to minimize the damage to the flesh while cutting the skin away.
Other methods break the connection between the skin and the underlying flesh before peeling. My grandmother, who had a fondness for big fat soft New Jersey tomatoes, used to draw the flat side of a knife across the skin. With a little practice you can adjust the pressure until you feel the skin loosening from the flesh. After you’ve gone round the tomato make a shallow cut and start peeling. The skin will come right off. This is what I do when I only have a handful of large tomatoes to peel.
The third approach takes advantage of a hot grill. Put the tomatoes on the grill, turning often, until the skin just begins to pull away from the flesh. No more than a few minutes, otherwise the tomato will start to cook. Plunge into ice water to stop the cooking, then peel.
The final option is to cut a shallow cross on the bottom of the tomato, dunk the tomato into boiling water for 10 seconds and then plunge it into ice water to stop the cooking. The skin will peel easily. This is the method I use for a large quantity of tomatoes.
Grilling corn with or without the husk
Put husked ears of corn on a medium-hot grill and cook until some of the kernels begin to char. Turn often so they don’t burn.
Put unhusked ears on a hot grill and cook all over until the husks blacken. Some recipes call for soaking the unhusked corn for an hour or more before grilling, but I actually prefer the smokier flavor that comes from husks that haven’t soaked (they burn). Allow to cool for 3 minutes and then remove the husks.
We almost always grill ears in their husks. The kernels of corn grilled naked have a tendency to dry as they cook and become chewy–we like the more tender texture of corn grilled in its husk, along with the smoky flavor. The husks are also easier to remove after grilling than when fresh.
With either method, strip the kernels off the cooled ears with a sharp knife, taking care not to cut too close to the fibrous cob.