In my most recent article, featuring a side dish made with zucchini, tomatoes and carrots ("Summer on the Plate," Aug. 5), I wrote that ripe tomatoes mark the official beginning of summer for me and I scoop up old favorites and unfamiliar varieties whenever I see them at the farmers market.
My love story with tomatoes goes way back. As a child I would eat them as often as possible when they were in season and, when visiting someone who grew them in their vegetable garden, I would ask permission to pick some and eat them off the vine. My father was a master at making panzanella, a traditional dish of tomatoes and one- to two-day-old country-style bread. For my mother, making a tomato salad was a way of ensuring enthusiasm at the table. One version included pomodori da insalata (salad tomatoes, slicing tomatoes harvested while still a bit green) and slicing cucumbers, the kind with dark green skin.
With the wide array of both tomatoes and cucumbers available nowadays, one can create endless different pairings, so the salad, the essence of summer on a plate, will never be boring.
The variety of tomatoes never ceases to amaze me. Color is the first thing I notice: yellow, orange, red, green and purple come in solids, and intriguing striped and marbled patterns. They run from small to larger and round to more elongated. And the flavor ranges from a sweeter to more acidic. I can only say to try as many as you can and find your favorite varieties. I have this strange idea that tomato growers breed new varieties for the pleasure of naming them, things like persuasion (my favorite among Jane Austen's novels), cherry bomb, purple sunrise or Berkeley pink tie-dye.
My cucumber palette has also expanded in the years to encompass first round, yellow lemon cucumbers, then other varieties from dark green to pale yellow in color, and from oval and plump to longer, more slender shapes. Most recently, I added to the list Armenian cucumbers, whose flesh tastes mild and sweet. They are long, thin-skinned, and come in a pale green and ridged, dark green or striped light and dark green, the latter known as striped Armenian or painted serpent). Genetically, they are a musk melon (Cucumis melo var. flexuosus), rather than a cucumber (Cucumis sativus).
The addition of peppery radishes to the salad creates a pleasant contrast of flavors, accented by fresh basil, the tomato's indispensable companion.
This summer I have prepared the salad a few times for my husband after he came home from a bike ride, as it makes for a refreshing and hydrating option after a workout. It takes just a few minutes to put together and is as pleasing as a simple combination of fresh ingredients can be.
Tomato, Cucumber and Radish Salad
12 ounces cherry tomatoes or heirloom tomatoes (on the small end of the scale) or a mix
10 ounces Armenian cucumbers or cucumbers of your choice
4 ounces radishes
½ tablespoon sherry vinegar
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
½ teaspoon fine sea salt
6-8 fresh basil leaves, rolled and sliced into a fine chiffonade
Prepare the salad shortly before serving it.
Cut the cherry tomatoes in half lengthwise and, if they are long, cut each half in half or into thirds crosswise. Slice round tomatoes. Place in a salad bowl.
Peel the cucumbers if needed. Note that some varieties, including Armenian cucumbers, don't require peeling. Quarter the cucumbers lengthwise and slice them into the salad bowl.
Grate the radishes using the largest holes on a hand grater and add them to the salad bowl.
Put the vinegar, olive oil and sea salt into a small glass jar. Screw on the lid and shake well.
Distribute the vinaigrette on the salad and toss gently. Sprinkle the basil, then toss again. Taste and adjust the seasoning to your liking, then serve.
Simona Carini (she/her) also writes about her adventures in the kitchen on her blog www.pulcetta.com and shares photographs on Instagram @simonacarini. She particularly likes to create still lives with produce from the farmers market.