For Pablo Neruda, the well-known Chilean poet, food was inspirational. His passion for the taste, texture, color and aroma of good food left us with writings that will make your mouth water. His devotion to food brought him a Nobel Prize and motivated many a shy cook to venture into the kitchen.
Neruda loved tomatoes — not just loved as in ate them a lot — he loved and adored them down to his soul, and rhapsodized his feelings through magical prose and verse. My favorite line closes his famous poem, “Oda al Tomate”: “The tomato offers its gift of fiery color and cool completeness.” That line makes me want to hold, sniff and squeeze a tomato while I decide how to eat it.
Summer-ripened tomatoes are the perfect choice for fresh, beautiful food that packs a nutritious punch. That lovely red color Pablo is always talking about? It comes from the chemical lycopene. Over the last few years, in the area of phytonutrient research, nothing has been hotter than lycopene. Since tomatoes are so nutritionally loaded, it's hard for scientists to determine whether lycopene is the superstar, or if the benefits come from other properties such as vitamin C, folate, potassium or fiber. However you slice them, tomatoes are powerful, and there's much to be gained by eating them.
Dr. Edward Giovannucci, of Harvard School of Public Health, reports that after reviewing 72 studies on the disease-fighting properties of tomatoes, “the evidence for benefit was strongest for cancers of the prostate, lung and stomach.” I'm sure the research will continue — and I'll keep you posted. Until then, I'm leaving you with a special treat.
For all gardeners reaping the rewards of tomato-planting, and for non-gardeners who threw in a tomato plant hoping to harvest “something” — and hey, even for you produce-aisle specialists who prefer to “harvest” in the grocery store — this recipe is a summer treat for everyone. This tomato salad is mouth-watering and looks gorgeous alongside most any dish. It's a stress-free, simple recipe made to taste rather than measured, keeping you feeling as relaxed as a summer afternoon. Don't worry about getting it wrong; just keep on tasting until you love it as much as Neruda would have.
Easy Summer Tomato Salad
Fresh tomatoes, about ¾ cup per person
One large bunch of fresh basil
Zest of one lemon
Small jar of mixed, pitted olives (I love kalamata olives in this salad)
Salt and fresh pepper
Slice tomatoes into bite-size pieces (cherry tomatoes in half or mid-size varieties into quarters). Trader Joe's Heirloom Mix is a wonderful, eye-popping combination of red and yellow cherry-sized tomatoes, or any variety will work. Fresh from the vine is a great way to start.
Lightly salt and add freshly cracked pepper.
Add the zest of one lemon.
Drizzle olive oil over the top, just enough to coat when tossing.
Prepare fresh basil, one large bunch rolled up and laid on its side. While holding it in place, slice thinly to chiffonade. Add thin strips of basil and olives, and toss gently to incorporate and blend all the flavors.
This is so simple and summery. I hope you like it.
Author of the award winning book All Health's Breaking Loose, reach Loa Blasucci for questions or comments at gotoloa.com