I’ve said before that summer is the season when I love to corral my kids in the kitchen to tackle a meaningful project together: fresh lemonade, bread or a fruit pie, homemade jam, even plain old dinner. What I haven’t confessed is that one of the often surprising by-products of these adventures is how much I learn from them. Perhaps as much as anyone, especially considering I enter the room with a slightly overinflated feeling of mastery and general air of food know-it-all-ness. The person with the ideas and answers. (What? There are others?) Yet I can’t help but take pleasure in the topsy-turvy feeling of being hit head-on by the beautifully simple possibilities that flow through younger mouths. Mouths that know what THEY like to eat, and with taste buds unencumbered by creativity-stifling notions of what-goes-with-what and why. And, I must admit, why not?
Our youngest enjoys free-style kitchen experimentation modeled after the cable cooking show Chopped, cobbling together odds and ends (at times more odd than end) from the fridge into dishes, often unique and decidedly of the moment. A little bit of this. A dash of that. Who knows? Might be the best taste ever.
A favorite result of her dabbling is a fresh tomato vinaigrette. In its earliest incarnation she’d simply squeeze an effusively ripe tomato into a cereal bowl, smashing and mashing the overripe flesh with splashes of olive oil and vinegar, so the liquids commingled in a humble yet inspired way. The mixture got my attention.
This is a girl who can’t be bothered with equipment and clean-up; she looks quizzically as I suggest a food processor or mortar and pestle. If simply squeezing a tomato into a bowl gets the job done, why lug something heavy from the closet? So, with apologies to the chef, here is my interpretation of a fabulous summer vinaigrette. Try this dressing over all manner of impromptu salads: simple greens, cucumbers, peppers, sliced avocado, steamed corn, beans or zucchini. Drizzle over a sandwich, pasta or whole grains. Cheese. Experiment away.
Summer Tomato Vinaigrette
There’s no need to peel off the tomato skins for this dressing—in fact precious nutrients such as antioxidant lycopene are concentrated in the skins—but do remove as many seeds as possible since they don’t process well. I like to use a clean finger, poised over the sink or compost bin, to casually scoop out the seeds.
Makes about one cup, enough for three or so large salads
- 1 generous cup cubed tomato (seeds removed)
- 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1 1/2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
- 1 small clove garlic, minced (about 1/4 teaspoon)
- salt and freshly ground black pepper
- large pinch dried oregano
- small pinch red pepper flakes
- fresh lemon juice
- Place tomato, oil, vinegar, garlic, large pinch salt and pepper, oregano and red pepper flakes into a blender or food processor and process until smooth.
- Add more salt or pepper to taste, as well as a generous squeeze of lemon juice to taste (or instead of lemon juice add up to 1/2 tablespoon vinegar to taste).
Quick Tips for the Week’s Delivery:
- If you have peppers left from last week roast them following this recipe. Cool the mixture then toss a generous cupful with cooked and cooled pasta, diced feta cheese, fresh green herbs and cubed heirloom tomatoes or halved cherry tomatoes. Serve cool or at room temperature as an easy pasta salad. Use the remaining roasted pepper mixture over toasted bread or scooped on top of lettuce and fresh mozzarella slices.
- Remove beet tops. Chop stems and leaves (leave them separated). Peel and cube beet roots. Coat lightly with olive oil and roast at 400 degrees until tender. Sauté beet stems in olive oil. Add leaves and bit of minced garlic and cook a few minutes more. Add roasted roots and warm through. Or bake a sweet beet cake.
- Try Christine de la Cruz’s sneaky zucchini noodles with peanut sauce.
- Cut bok choy in half lengthwise. Place cut side down into a hot sauté pan coated with a bit of oil. Cook until the cut side is browned and the bok choy is soft. Add some minced garlic and ginger root, and a generous splash each of soy sauce,
toasted sesame oil and rice vinegar.
- Mash raspberries into slightly softened vanilla ice cream. Scoop onto store bought
chocolate cookies and sandwich together to make impromptu ice cream sandwiches. Place into the freezer for half an hour to firm up before serving.