On Your Table: Tomatoes are the bright star in your summer salad

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By Cathy Branciaroli, Food Correspondent, The Times

Tomato Salad with Cucumbers and Shiraz Dressing

Tomato season is upon us and that means we’re about to see our favorite fruit in a whole plethora of shades, shapes and sizes. Sure, these days you can find tomatoes at the grocery store year round. But those perfectly round, usually bland, tomatoes have been genetically modified over the years to highlight certain characteristics.

I enjoy the variety of local tomatoes at our produce stand which specializes in heirloom varieties — big and small, ribbed, smooth, or pointy, red, yellow, green, or zebra striped. I’ve been making tomato salads and sandwiches like they’re going out of style, I’ve been making tomato tarts and tomato tarragon bread soup, and I’ve been mixing batches of gazpacho. My two stand-by tomato tarts are the tomato tart tatin and the tomato mustard tart.

However my personal favorite tomato dish is ratatouille, a stew of tomatoes, onions, bell peppers, and chili peppers. It is a simple, family-style dish that is quickly assembled, and highly flexible. Being of Italian descent, I usually add roasted zucchini, but eggplant is a more traditional ingredient.

There’s something really appealing about the knobby, misshapen heirloom tomatoes. Their seeds haven’t been modified from their original versions, so they’ve retained all the original flavors that nature intended. You’ll see them come in shades ranging from green to yellow to orange and even purple.

Unlike organic, there is no official seal for heirloom varieties. The best way to know if you’re getting an heirloom is to take a bite out of it. And there’s no denying this fact. Just a walk through the farmer’s market and the rainbow of colors that make up the tomato palette makes this point all too clear.

Here in Southeast PA in the midst of the Mid-Atlantic summer season, I am ravenous for garden fresh ingredients.. In summers past we kicked off the summer season with light, bright salads featuring tomatoes bathed in olive oil and vinegar and still enjoy that tradition today. Few tastes rival that of a garden-fresh tomato. Its sweet, juicy flesh bursts with intense flavor. I don’t think I could get through this sunny season without them and I peer patiently as my tomato seedlings are shooting up day by day and watching the green fruits start to ripen. The green tomatoes are teasing me until they mature to a deep red and I can enjoy my own produce. Meanwhile I make do with farm stand tomatoes, which are not half bad by the way.

Tomato Cucumber Salad with Shiraz Dressing

Tomatoes are the star in a bright summer salad with light, tangy Shiraz dressing, The tomatoes and their companion ingredient, cucumbers, are covered in a light dressing of lime juice, seasonings and olive oil, flecked with mint.

Ingredients:

1 lime, juice of

¼ cup olive oil

1 garlic clove, minced

salt and pepper

10 cherry tomatoes, quartered

2 Persian or English cucumbers, quartered

1 medium red onion, diced

1 tbs mint, diced

Preparation:

In a jar, combine dressing ingredients.

In a salad bowl, combine salad ingredients.

Add dressing and toss.

Refrigerate at least 30 minutes before serving.

Cathy Branciaroli also writes about her adventures in the kitchen on her award-winning blog Delaware Girl Eats

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