If you told me I could eat one thing the rest of my life, this tomato salad could easily be in the top 5 of my choices.
Now, while that is cheating, as I am not giving you a clear answer, in my mind, top 5 is a pretty prestigious spot. As someone with the heart of a chef, and a mind that is constantly thinking about food, this humble tomato salad satisfies all of my top desires in a spectacular dish.
Which is ironic, because only five years ago, I despised fresh tomato. Now, this seems like a preposterous notion to me. At their peak, fresh tomatoes are something of incredible magic. Juicy, acidic, a delightful subtle sweetness that lends itself in so many cuisines. Tomatoes are perfection in the culinary world. There have been many attempts to tarnish this beautiful ingredient (I am looking at you ketchup), but a truly peak tomato is something beautiful to behold.
If I sound like someone in love, I may just be. Tomatoes embody so many cultures across the globe, and it has the ability to bring any dish to a different level. Especially when they are this good. I must admit, I have been a bit of a fanatic this summer, eating probably a pound a week by myself. I toss them with olive oil and a little sea salt and snack at them at work. I roast them in the oven for fresh salsa, or pasta sauce. I toss them in eggs, on top of leafy salads. Any time I can use tomatoes, I do.
Luckily for me, living in California, these precious commodities have a longer life, so I can enjoy them until November. When I was still a Midwestern girl, the season was quick, so we had to gobble them up as quickly as we could. And this tomato salad is the perfect way to enjoy them.
Perfectly ripe, slightly soft but firm tomatoes slices, marinating in their own juices, exceptionally rich, and buttery olive oil. With a touch of flaky sea salt & fresh cracked black pepper, this salad is brought together with creamy buratta, fresh basil, and a few drops of balsamic vinegar.
Sweet, salty, acidic, and incredibly vibrant, you won't find a better way to enjoy fresh tomato.
Since this is more of a method, than an exact recipe, I do want to outline specifically what I do to create this dish. It may look/sound complicated, but it takes less than 15 minutes to come together.
Start by slicing, fresh, washed, ripe heirloom tomatoes, ideally from your local farmer’s market. I state heirloom, because quite frankly, they are so incredibly delicious and perfect salad tomatoes. Some of my other favorite varietals are the the early girls, romanesco, cherry, and sweet beefsteak. Any tomatoes will work in this salad, but I encourage the heirlooms, as they are not only beautiful and come in an array of colors, but they are very sweet with the perfect amount of acidity.
I suggest slicing them in medium size wedges, but you can also cut them into slices, or half them if you are using cherry tomatoes (which I have done several times). Lay the tomatoes on the bottom of the plate. This is your base. Then tear your fresh basil into dime size pieces and place all over the tomatoes (you can tuck them in between a few slices as well). Lightly drizzle the tomatoes with olive oil*. Start off with about ½ of a tablespoon, and go up from there. You want them lightly coated, but not drenched. Once you are finished with the olive oil, move on to what I call the “first seasoning”, take a pinch or two of flaky sea salt (I use Maldon), and slightly crumble it between your fingers before you sprinkle. It breaks down the salt slightly, but keeps their larger shape in tact. Make sure that each tomato has a few sprinkles on each. Then move on to the fresh cracked black pepper. Use as much as you would like, but moderation is key, as you do not want it to over power the dish. I like mine on the finer setting so you aren’t biting into huge pieces of pepper.
Once it is lightly seasoned, add a few pieces of roasted garlic, or garlic confit. Three to four pieces should be efficient. If you do not have either, you can use minced garlic, just use it sparingly, you do not want the garlic to overwhelm. I would say maybe 1/2 a teaspoon. Minced garlic in a jar or raw garlic will have a much stronger taste and could possible take over the delicate flavors. Once you have your selected amount of garlic, move on to the delicious, creamy burrata*. Take one of the burrata balls and place in the middle of the plate. Slice it gently down the middle, exposing the soft, creamy cheese inside. Push the cheese slightly so it covers the middle (pictured below).
Second seasoning time! Finish up the dish with a few drops of balsamic (about 1-2 teaspoons per plate), carefully dropping around the plate, you want just a touch of the acidity. Then drizzle a little more olive oil over the top of the cheese, and sprinkle additional salt flakes and more pepper. You want the salt to come through, it cuts through the acidity of the tomatoes and the fat of the cheese.
This dish is more so a lesson in balance than an exact recipe. Once you find your perfect levels, this dish CANNOT be beat. Extremely simple, but elegant in its flavor. It screams to your taste buds. My favorite part of this dish is how incredible it tastes by itself or when you add bread, or toasted flat breads. There are many days during the summer that I turn to this for lunch, dinner, or sometimes mid week snacks (I swap the burrata for goat cheese). Creamy, cold burrata almost melts into the sweet and juicy tomatoes. The soft garlic intermingling just a touch with the olive oil, creating a sauce that is almost sinful.
Serve with flatbreads, a crispy baguette, or by itself.
Pro tip: mop up the ending juices with a piece of bread, or just pick up the plate and primitively drink it. I promise you won't be disappointed. I would put that juice on everything if I could.
Burrata cheese is a fresh Italian cow cheese, and will be found in the area with all of the fresh mozzarella. It will be in whey/water. You cannot replace this with a different cheese for this recipe, it will not mimic the same flavor/texture combination. BUT, if you cannot find it, this recipe tastes fantastic with goat cheese (chevre), or salted ricotta.
Finishing olive oil is a richer, thicker olive oil. Higher quality and more expensive, think your best olive oil for this salad. Any extra virgin olive oil will work, but I always suggest having a higher quality olive oil for dressings. They range from flavors of buttery, to peppery, and creamy. For a basic, better tasting olive oil commercially, California Olive Oil Ranch is great. You can find truly high quality olive oils at an Italian grocer.
Best Tomato Summer Salad
Author: Allie Brendel
The best way to enjoy the summer season's bounty of tomatoes, is in a simple manner. My best tomato summer salad celebrates the humble tomato in all the best ways. Salt, fat, and the creamy buratta make this salad one of my favorite dishes to eat (of all time).
Makes: 4 servings
- 4 medium ripe heirloom tomatoes (or any of the best ones you have)
- 1 container of buratta cheese *notes about this in the post
- 1 tablespoon of finishing olive oil *notes in the post
- Roasted garlic, or garlic confit
- 1-2 teaspoons of balsamic vinegar
- Handful of fresh basil leaves
- Maldon sea salt/flaky sea salt (or regular, preferably larger grained)
- Fresh cracked black pepper
- Gently rinse the tomatoes under cool water. Slice into whatever style you prefer, I prefer wedges or slices. For wedges, cut the tomato in half down the middle (vertically across the stem area). Gently remove core piece with your knife. Slice into the desired slice size.
- Select a nice plate (if you care, just make sure it is large enough to layer in a single layer). Lay tomato wedges (or slices), single layer, only overlapping slightly.
- Take your handful of fresh basil leaves and tear into nice size pieces (about the size of a dime). Layer the basil between the tomato slices, and additionally, on top. If you prefer less, add less.
- Drizzle your finishing olive oil over the tomatoes and basil, in a thin stream to make sure it isn't over dressed.
- 1st seasoning layer: Seasons tomatoes with 2 pinches of the sea salt flakes (crumbling them slightly in your fingers), then add the fresh cracked black pepper to taste.
- Add roasted garlic or garlic confit pieces, 3 to 4 should be sufficient.
- Open the buratta, take one of the balls out, place it in the middle of the plate on top of the tomato mixture. Slice it down the middle, and spread it out slightly, exposing the creamy cheese inside.
- 2nd seasonsing: Add a few drops of balsamic around the plate (1 drop at a time, probably around 4 drops, or one to two teaspoons total). Season with one more small pinch of salt and black pepper over the cheese. You can add a few more drops of the olive oil on the cheese as well.
- Serve with toasted bread, or by itself.