New York, as the saying goes, is the greatest city on earth if you can afford to leave it. And never is this more true than during the heights of summer when living in this place becomes – and I’m going to be generous here – challenging.
Last month it was 104° fahrenheit, exceeding the maximum temperature which biologists consider possible for human inhabitation. The subway platforms are like a twice-daily stopover in Abu Ghraid.
And so we flee to the beaches. This means traffic, lots of it, which is particularly irksome given that the whole point of living in New York is that it’s the one place in America where you don’t need a car. Traffic jams are supposed to be LA’s problem, not ours. Meanwhile the trains to the beach become as packed and hysterical as the last chopper out of Saigon.
Once you’ve made your escape the Hamptons are indeed lovely, but then you feel inadequate for not owning a $90,000 German car. And with my bow-legs and pallid skin I’ve never really felt comfortable on the beach. See that deranged looking man over there, crouching under an umbrella? That’s me, muttering to myself, wondering if 11:15am is late enough for the day’s inaugural Modelo Especial.
So what can I find good to say about summer? Well, the tomatoes are nice.
It is a sad truth that many people have never tasted a real tomato. I need not remind you that the tomato is a fruit rather than a vegetable. Consequently it should be flavorful, luscious and bloated on its own juice. Eating a really good tomato at its apotheosis of ripeness should feel so indulgent that you’ll want to see a priest the next day.
But the world is a perverse place, and sadly the version with which most people are familiar – the year round supermarket tomato – is a travesty, a parody of itself. The supermarket tomato is harvested green, gassed red, shipped hard, and achieves the singular feat of actually tasting of nothing at all. In shape they are perfect orbs, but like the fake boob on a cheap stripper, they are nothing like as desirable as their visually imperfect but ultimately more delicious authentic counterparts.
At this time of year, heirloom tomatoes are in their prime. (An heirloom tomato is one of the seasonal and idiosyncratic varieties which are grown in relatively small quantities and are not to be found on your chilly supermarket shelves. I think they are called heritage tomatoes in the UK.) They often look extraordinary, coming in many peculiar shapes and hues. Don’t be put off by odd-seeming bumps, nodules and blemishes. In fact, be drawn to them, for they are the sign of something grown for the appreciative few.
Once you have hunted down some lovely specimens of heirloom, you can make that wonderful and timeless Italian appetizer: the Insalata Caprese.
A Caprese is a lesson in the virtues of minimalism. Five elements:
1.) A good tomato (see above rant.)
2.) Mozzarella (mini-rant: PLEASE seek out imported Italian mozzarella di bufala, made with the milk of water buffalo. It is sold in tubs, submerged in lightly salted whey. It is velvety and gorgeous and nothing like the shrinkwrapped, rubbery, domestic stuff you find in the supermarket.)
3.) Olive oil. (I don’t even need to say Extra Virgin.)
5.) Freshly ground black pepper.
Be restrained in your portions. Focus on quality over quantity in both mozzarella and tomato. Couple of slices of each, a glass of pinot grigio... la vita e bella. I am ready to face the torments of summer once more.
- Gonads on toast.
- Cockroach Of The Sea.
- Caesar Salad: the taste of loneliness.
- Arrivederci Nonna.
- In defense of the Happy Meal.
- Fish Soup, and why the French are annoying.
- Baking turns me into Woody Allen.
- Tuber Magnatum: worth selling a kidney for?
- Off-piste Italian.
- The silliest meal of my life (followed by a good mushroom recipe)
- Summer’s nearly over. Thank God.
- Prozac, Xanax, Chicken Tikka Masala.