L’insalata di pomodoro perfetta – the perfect tomato salad

tomato salad

 

The perfect tomato salad does not exist, of course. It is one of those highly personal things even if there are a few unbreakable rules. However, I thought it would be a nice idea to share with you what the great Neapolitan food writer Jeanne Carola Francesconi, the author of one of the grandest Italian cookery books La Cucina Napoletana (1963), says about tomato salad.This is my translation.

“Fresh, dewy, savoury, tomato salad is the symbol of summer. One likes it at first sight, with its warm colours that speak of the sun and with its juices that speak of the richness of the earth.

You must know how to make it properly though: the tomatoes will be more or less green, according to taste, or almost as ripe as those used to make tomato sauce. And, again according to taste, they will be large and round, with or without seeds, or pear shaped. They will always be delicious, but they must be dressed judiciously: plenty of salt,  a lot of oil and no vinegar, god forbid – you would spoil them.

From this fresh base, you will always be able to vary flavours, starting from garlic, almost de rigueur, onion and parsley (only if you do not have other herbs). Basil will add freshness, with its tender, young leaves; origano will accentuate the flavour; a few celery stalks, with their leaves, will make a nice contrast. Black olives from Gaeta,  capers and anchovies will make it piquant, tuna preserved in oil will marry with it beautifully and freselle (hard rusks) from a dark country bread will absorb the juices and will make it more substantial. You can add one, two or three of these ingredients or even all of them – the salad will become a real meal, nourishing and tantalising.

On summer evenings, when the heat is oppressive and you are happily tired, drunk from a day of sea and sun, still immersed in that magic enchantment to where nature has transported you, a tomato salad, with its ingenuity, its juices, its fragrance, will be the natural quiet epilogue to those most recent sensations.”

 

Barba di frate olio & limone (friar’s beard or agretti salad) – spring, Hip hip hooray

barba_di_frate

Finally! The daffodils in the park, the camelia & the magnolia down in the garden, the birds cheerfully chirping away in the morning.. spring!! … AND I found barba di frate (also called agretti) at one of my local semi-posh greengrocers (Newington Green Grocers-reccomended).

Barba di frate a.k.a. friar’s beard or agretti, is a green, slender vegetable, that looks like over-grown chives and tastes a  bit like spinach and sorrel, but with a more metallic, mineral undertone. It is slightly bitter and also acidula ( a tiny bis sour, but on the pleasant side of sourness).
It has a very short season between March and April – it is one the real harbingers of spring, alongside forced rhubarb and nespole . Continue reading

Puntarelle in insalata (Puntarelle salad from Rome)

Puntarelle (pronounced poon-ta-REL-lay) is a winter bitter green. It is a member of the chicory family and it is also called catalogna or catalogna spigata. The slender leaves must be boiled/steamed and can be eaten warm as a side dish, with a trickle of olive oil or ri-passate in padella – that is to say, sautéed in oil, garlic and peperoncino.  It is the inner crunchy shoots though that is the real reason Italians buy puntarelle – they make one of the best winter salads. Continue reading