It’s that time of year when fresh ripe tomatoes used to be really cheap. Maybe they still are somewhere, but not in my neighborhood. We get greenhouse “vine tomatoes” all year round, and they’re $2.49 a pound in July just like they are in January. Maybe I’ll go up to the farmer’s market in Grand Army Plaza tomorrow morning and see what’s available.
This is a recipe for tomato junkies. Also for people who get shanghaied by irresistible tomatoes and fresh basil at farmer’s markets, but are too tired when they get home to do anything elaborate with them. Martha Stewart would use it as a salad or appetizer, but we eat it as our main course and are happy therewith.
Required ingredients: A lot of good tomatoes. Salt and pepper. Just a dollop of Best Foods (Hellman’s) mayonnaise—you don’t want to drown it. An unsliced loaf of good French or Italian bread. Don’t use that mooshy sandwich stuff.
Potentially advantageous additions: A little chopped fresh basil. A little chopped green onion. (Go light. This dish is about tomatoes and bread.) If you insist, you can probably get away with olive oil instead of mayonnaise, but it’ll be a different dish. And if you’re so fortunate as to have salad burnet (Sanguisorba minor) available to you, by all means put it in.
Procedure: Wash the tomatoes and cut them up into loose chunks. Put a nice dollop of mayonnaise on them, enough to tincture the whole when stirred in. (How much mayo exactly? Search me. How should I know how many tomatoes you bought? My own way of measuring is, if after adding the mayo the color spec goes over 50% white, you’ve used too much.)
Season with salt and pepper to taste. If you’re adding a little fresh basil or chopped green onion or salad burnet, add it now. Set the tomato mixture aside to bleed.
Now take your loaf of fresh French or Italian bread, or portion thereof to equal or slightly exceed the volume of tomatoes, and cut it into chunks about as big as you can comfortably put into your mouth. (Avedon, make them a little bigger than that.)
Take a serving bowl (glass, if you want to show off how pretty this is), and arrange about half the bread chunks in a layer on the bottom. Spoon some—not half, just some—of the tomato mixture over them. With any luck, there’ll be a lot of tomato juice tinged with mayonnaise lurking in the bottom of the bowl. Make sure some of that gets onto the bread. Now take the rest of the bread chunks and layer them in, then spoon all the remaining tomato mixture over them.
Press it down a little with the back of your big wooden spoon, or wash your hands well and press it down that way. Don’t squash it. You’re just trying to get the bread to soak up tomato juice. Serve fairly soon.
I know this dish sounds a little weird. Ask Patrick how it tastes.