The tomato-growing gene must have skipped me.
Every woman in my family inherited it, except me. My grandmother, mother, sister and now my daughter, all grow beautiful, deeply red tomatoes. My daughter also grows yellow, red, orange, green and purple tomatoes. Each is as bright as a jewel with a flavor just as precious.
My favorite farmer at the market displays beautiful tomatoes. My friends and colleagues, all backyard gardeners, grow beautiful tomatoes. Last week at my annual checkup, my physician pulled out her phone to show me photos of yesterday’s crop from her garden.
I grow squirrel food. Each tomato on my vines attracts a hungry squirrel to match. So, this summer I gave up and accepted all gifts of garden tomatoes. In the sizzling heat of summer, I look for recipes that require little or no cooking. I’ve exhausted the classic caprese salad — tomatoes, mozzarella and basil drizzled with olive oil. I’ve tried every variation, substituting feta, goat blue, ricotta salata cheeses. Yawn! I’ve done the leafy green and tomato salads, the open-faced sandwiches and the chopped fresh tomato sauce over pasta and pizza. More yawns.
Now it’s time for something new. A salad made with 2 cups fregola, the Sardinian version of cous-cous. Cous-cous is a very tiny grain, the Middle Eastern equivalent of pastina, steamed and tossed with vegetables, nuts and dried fruits and spices.
In the Israeli version, the grains are larger. In Sardinia, the large grains are toasted, caramelized and slightly chewy. (Look for it on the shelves of the international section of the supermarket or in specialty shops.)
Cherry Tomato & Fregola Salad
2 cups fregola
1 pint small cherry tomatoes
1 large cucumber, peeled, seeded and diced
½ small yellow pepper and ½ small orange pepper, seeded and cut into a small dice
½ red onion, diced
4-6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Juice and zest of 1 lemon
Sea salt, to taste
8 fresh basil leaves, chiffonade
2 tablespoons Italian parsley, chopped
3 tablespoon chives, chopped
4 ounces goat cheese, crumbled
¼ pound thinly sliced prosciutto or baked ham, cut into small pieces (optional)
Bring a large saucepan of water to a boil. Add fregola; simmer about 8-12 minutes, until tender. Drain and cool until still warm. Add it to a bowl with the cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, yellow and orange pepper, and red onion. Whisk together lemon juice and zest, salt and olive oil. Pour over fregola mixture and toss gently. Make ahead this far and store, tightly covered in the refrigerator until ready to serve. Remove from refrigerator 20 minutes before serving. To chiffonade basil, stack the leaves together and roll them, jelly-roll style, tightly. Cut crosswise so that they resemble blades of grass. Add the fresh herbs, cheese and prosciutto if using. Toss gently to combine. Makes 4 to 6 servings.
BACON & CREAM CHEESE-STUFFED TOMATOES
3 pints cherry tomatoes, top removed
2 (8-ounce) tubs whipped cream cheese
12 slices bacon, cooked until crisp then drain on paper towels
1/4 cup chives, minced
Hollow out cherry tomatoes with a melon scoop. Invert them onto paper towels to drain, for 20 minutes.
Mix together cream cheese, crumbled bacon and chives. Stuff mixture into cherry tomatoes. Keep, covered lightly in refrigerator, up to 1 hour until ready to serve.
Linda Bassett is the author of “From Apple Pie to Pad Thai: Neighborhood Cooking North of Boston.” Reach her by e-mail at KitchenCall@aol.com. Read Linda’s blog at LindABCooks.wordpress.com. Follow Linda for quick recipes on Twitter at @Kitchencall.