Sunday, September 13, 2009

When tomatoes make you smile.

Sometimes we take things for granted, and only their absence brings a renewed longing for them. This is a tale of Italians, friendship, tomatoes and sun. We have the most caring, friendly neighbors one can wish for; they are Italian, born and bred in this hill that we now call home. They own the house we rent, and from the moment we met, they have gone beyond any expectations one could have about a landlord. They help with big and small problems, they cook for Fernando and Nicolas when I am away, they take care of our dog when we travel, they shower us with produce they grow in their backyard, they care.

Francesco, their youngest son is a renaissance man. At 17 he is always on the go, fixing machines and bikes, fishing, cutting wood, raking leaves and piling snow. He also cooks AND grows his own fruit and vegetables. He also happens to need some help with his english, and I am more than happy to help him.

Way back when summer was just a promise in the near future, I had talked to Francesco to help us grow our own vegetables. Then we were busy with traveling and visitors, and then it was summer! I only got to grow some essentials (basil for my pesto, and mint for my mojitos - I have my priorities) so we never got around to planting tomatoes, or lettuce, or zucchini...

Sweet Francesco would show up at my doorstep for his english lesson, and he would always bring us a fresh cornucopia of delights. We had eggplants, peppers, onions, zucchini, and of course many tomatoes. Let me tell you about these tomatoes, as they were not like anything I had before; they were plump and sweet, and oh, so RED. We ate them like you would eat a peach, savoring every bit of their juice. They made the best Caprese salad, and we enjoyed them as topping for simple bruschetta. These tomatoes tasted of sunny days and caring hands, of half spoken english-italian conversations, and the smiles that come along.

Because I learn from example, I want to share (if only virtually) some of the goodness with you. Here is a simple recipe for basic bruschette, easy to do and great as antipasti.

bread (sourdough, thick crust) sliced at about 1/2 inch
2-3 ripe tomatoes (no Italian neighbor required)
basil leaves
salt and pepper
GOOD olive oil
white wine vinegar
1 clove of garlic

Grill the sliced bread on a grill or in your oven until crisp on both sides. Cut a clove of garlic and rub each piece of bread with it. Drizzle with GOOD extra virgin olive oil, and add a bit of salt to taste.

Clean tomatoes and discard their core and seeds. Cut the tomatoes into chunky pieces, and tear the basil to release the flavor. In a bowl mix the tomatoes with the basil, season with salt and pepper, add olive oil and a bit of vinegar.

Top each bruschetta with the tomato topping, and enjoy the taste of summer!

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