Makes 4 servings
I did a version of this salad—years ago—for Today (aka ‘the Today Show’). The whole show was based in Asbury Park. Bruce was playing in the Convention Hall (of course he was) and I was highlighting Jersey’s best summer food. I did herbed bluefish on the grill, blueberry crisp and this salad.
By 9 AM it was 100 degrees on the beach. This is not an exaggeration or heat-distorted memory, it’s a fact. For the segment, our table was flanked by two huge Weber kettle grills filled with screaming hot charcoals, which we kept stoked for an hour or so. With live TV you never know when you’ll be bumped up or back so it’s best to be prepared. Then they brought in the lights. Not one or two, but six. I never thought those lights could possibly make it any hotter. But they did. Throughout the morning a line of people had gathered in a semi-circle along the beach to see what they could see of the show. I gave them credit.
I was doing the segment with Al Roker. As we were getting ready to do the “tease” and then the segment, he asked me, “How long till we both pass out?” I said I thought I could make it through the bluefish and the half the tomato salad, but no guarantees.
Certain things you remember: I remember Joe standing stoically nearby for the whole time we were on the beach. I remember the two of us and the lovely Kim Yorio going to Bruce’s sound check the day before. And I remember Danny DeVito, in that monstrous heat, working his way around the semi-circle of people shaking everybody’s hand and taking a picture with anyone who asked. It took him about half an hour to make his way around. That’s a star.
1 ½ pounds of any type and combination of ripe tomatoes
½ teaspoon coarse sea salt
20 leaves fresh basil (or more if you like) torn into big pieces
Half a small red onion, sliced very thin
1/3 cup of the best olive oil you can find
Freshly ground pepper
With a small knife, cut the cores from the tomatoes and cut the tomatoes into about 1 ½-inch chunks. Toss the tomato chunks, salt, basil and red onion gently in a mixing bowl and let stand, tossing gently once or twice, from 10 to 15 minutes.
Drain the tomatoes in a sieve over a small bowl and spoon off all but 3 to 4 tablespoons of the juice. Sip the rest of the juice with a spoon concentrating very hard on what you’re tasting. Remember that taste in February. Pour the olive oil slowly into the tomato juice, whisking constantly. Taste the dressing and add freshly ground pepper, more tomato juice or olive oil to taste.
Pour the dressing over the tomatoes and taste for salt, adding more if necessary. Serve immediately. Serve the salad exactly as is (but take it out of the strainer and into a bowl). Or spoon it over fresh mozzarella, more tomato slices or freshly cooked and drained pasta. The version in the picture above is served with sliced fresh mozzarella and an arugula salad. Best of all is to rub a thickish slice of really good bread with olive oil and grill it till it’s a little burnt*, then spoon the salad on top.
*About that ‘little burnt’ thing. That’s what “bruschetta” means in Italian. Here are two facts, lovingly delivered, about brushetta: Bruschetta is the bread, not the tomato stuff you put on top. And it’s pronounced “Bru-sket-ta.” Sorry, just had to get that in.