Today’s post is about my most favorite summer side dish in the whole wide world. It’s a family tradition and it’s easy to make. In my family we call it tomato salad. In its most simple form in consists of tomatoes, onions, olive oil and balsamic vinegar with a touch of salt and pepper for good measure. In a fancier form, we sometimes add fresh mozzarella and basil. Nothing more. And it is delicious.
It’s perfect for locallykatered because it uses readily available local ingredients that I usually have an abundance of it. You have to understand, my family originally hails from New Jersey and our last name ends in a vowel (though to be fair my siblings and I are not 100% Italian, we are a 50/50 mix of Italian and Irish). But still I’m pretty sure that being from New Jersey and that 50% Italian requires us by law to reserve 75% of any backyard garden for growing at least three different varieties of tomatoes – beefsteak, plum, and whatever wildcard variety your particular family desires, in our family, cherry.
Also a law, there must be onions and garlic in the pantry at all times. It’s like a travesty if we don’t have onions and garlic. I don’t know how I’ve ever gotten anyone to kiss me as onions and garlic go into just about every meal I make. Every time we go grocery shopping Mike is like — really, more onions and garlic? Didn’t you make me stop on the way home for onions and garlic yesterday? Yes Mike I probably did – but I just want to make sure were covered. I think I have him trained well enough now that he just picks up garlic and onions even if they are not on the list I give him.
There are lots of laws regarding foodstuffs in the Ricigliano household, i.e. at least five different varieties of mustard must be on hand at all time, ketchup must be bought in bulk, etc. For the purpose of this post we are going to talk about the oil and vinegar standards that must be up held. I am pretty sure that if you were to look in the kitchens of my parents, my sister, at least one of my brothers, and my own you would find about ten different varieties/flavors of oil and vinegar. The most oft used ones being olive oil and balsamic vinegar. So you can imagine my dismay when I first tried to cook for Mike at his place and found he only had canola oil and distilled white vinegar. The vinegar was only around for cleaning purposes. It was total culture shock. How do you not have at least three types of vinegar?
Now that you have all that information about my family’s kitchen cabinet contents, let’s get to what this blog is really about-recipes with local ingredients. Thanks to my dad’s garden, my CSA from Bishop’s Orchard, my mom’s planted herb garden, and my upstairs neighbor’s (also Italian) garden I had quite the plethora of locally grown tomatoes, onions and basil. So tomato salad was on the menu at least four nights a week this summer.
As an added bonus, and also what this blog is really about, I stumbled upon a new specialty food store opening up in my current hometown of Branford while sampling their wares at the Bishops wine fest. About a week or so later Mike and I were returning from another winery visit and we drove by the store. Actually we wouldn’t have driven by the store if it weren’t for the fact that all summer long Burger King was offering 50 cent soft serve cones, and vanilla soft-serve in the summertime is my Achilles heel, so I took full advantage of that offer whenever possible. I’m not ashamed to admit I double fisted it once or twice.
But back to the specialty food store- What type of specialty food store was it you ask? Well it was an entire store dedicated to infused olive oils and balsamic vinegar! It’s called the Old Quarry Olive Oil Co., and let me tell you they have a huge selection.
So Mike and I wandered into the store, as I had a coupon from the wine fest, and I was overwhelmed by how many different flavors of oil and vinegar there were for me to taste. I turned to mike and said this is going to take a while. And it did. The owner was wonderful and full of information. He was also very accommodating and patient as I tasted just about all of each infused olive oil and balsamic vinegar they had to offer. I settled on two of each, black cherry and blackberry ginger for the balsamic, and garlic and lemon for the olive oil.
Now here is the thing about infused oils and vinegars, in my opinion the extra expense is not worth it if you are going to be cooking with them. Mostly because the high heat causes the flavor extracts to evaporate. They are however, wonderful for marinades and dressings and for my most favorite, dipping wonderfully crusty fresh bread. So seeing as I had pretty much busted the budget on fancy condiments that we really didn’t need I had to find ways to put them to good use to justify the expense.
The first of which was the very simple tomato and onion salad. I dressed it with the black cherry balsamic vinegar and the garlic olive oil. I also added lots of fresh basil, minced garlic, a snip of fresh oregano, and salt and pepper to taste. The result was absolute Italian Garden deliciousness!
If you’re in the Branford area, I suggest stopping by the Old Quarry Olive Oil Co. and sampling until your heart’s content. Just be prepared ahead of time to spend some money.