We’re in tomato thrall. Real tomatoes are back, in all their tomatoey glory. The cherry tomatoes are so riotously colorful — bright little spheres in yellow, red, burgundy, orange and green — that I keep a big bowl of them on the kitchen table. It’s hard to pass by without grabbing a couple, as if I were reaching for a few juicy grapes or berries.
We’re reclaiming the visceral summer experience of biting into a freshly picked, firm but truly ripe, never-refrigerated tomato and relishing it. At my house, there will be tomatoes in some fashion at every meal for the coming weeks.
Plain and unadulterated is the way to go with the first tomatoes of the season. Thick slices or wedges, a little salt, a little pepper (optional), a drizzle of good olive oil, a plate. Repeat. Life is good.
Then take the next step, and dress your tomatoes with a garlicky vinaigrette. And when you’re ready to forge ahead with more forceful seasoning, remember the anchovy. Tomatoes and anchovies play very well together, often in the company of olives and capers. Chopped anchovies added to a dressing, or an anchovy fillet draped casually over a salad, provide a meaty, savory umami, not just saltiness. It’s a perfect match for sweet, ripe tomatoes.
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Go for the best anchovies you can find. They cost more but are worth it. You’ll find them online, in specialty-foods stores and in some supermarkets. Look for oil-packed anchovies from Spain, southern France or Italy. Most Italian delis also sell salt-packed whole anchovies, which need rinsing and deboning. (It’s not hard to do.) They have great texture and tend to be milder than anchovies in oil. I give inexpensive oil-packed anchovies, which sometimes taste strong, a brief rinse in lukewarm water, followed by blotting on paper towels.
I’m offering three recipes with tomatoes as stars of the show but with anchovies in supporting roles. All are designed with summer ease in mind. Of course, you could leave out the anchovies, but that would be a pity. Let the tomato-anchovy combination seduce you, like a slow tango.
salt, crushed red pepper or more herbs would be welcome, as would a drizzle of fruity olive oil.
Tomatoes and anchovies play very well together, often in the company of olives and capers.
Pasta fredda is what you want for lunch or dinner on a sweltering day. You cut a pile of cherry tomatoes in half, then dress them with chopped anchovy, garlic, red onion, olive oil and a little vinegar. Basil, summer savory, marjoram and parsley are the best choices for herbs.
Prepare the mixture several hours ahead if you wish, but wait to boil the pasta until just before serving. Take care to cook the pasta on the firm side of al dente. Spoon the cherry tomatoes and all their juices over the pasta and toss gently. As the cool tomatoes hit the hot pasta, an extraordinary mingling of flavors occurs.
Let the dish rest for a few minutes; it tastes best after it sits a bit. Cheese isn’t necessary, but you could add some grated mild ricotta salata. A final sprinkle of flaky sea salt, crushed red pepper or more herbs would be welcome, as would a drizzle of fruity olive oil.
If the grill is going, consider giving your tomatoes a quick char, then turning them into a room-temperature antipasto or first course. The grill, or a broiler, gives the tomatoes a little smokiness but doesn’t cook them too much. Dab them with a mustard-garlic vinaigrette and garnish with hard-cooked egg, anchovy fillets and crunchy breadcrumbs. It is a pleasure to get a bit of each element in every mouthful.
A tomato tart with mozzarella and anchovy is easy to put together. It has all the appeal of pizza, but it doesn’t require keeping the oven at full blast. And it doesn’t really need to be served warm. I actually prefer it at room temperature.
The pastry dough is made with olive oil instead of butter, which makes a crisp crust. For a fancier version, use puff pastry instead. Roll the dough out to a rectangle, and cover the surface with thin slices of tomato and mozzarella. Dot with anchovy fillets, adding capers and olives, perhaps, or roughly chopped rosemary and hot pepper. Cut the tart into large or small squares.
But, fellow tomato lovers, remember also to make the ultimate BLT or a meatless avocado version. And don’t forget the mayo-slathered over-the-sink tomato sandwich.
And to drink …
With long-cooked tomato sauces, the reflex is to grab a red. But with the fresh tomatoes of summer, a crisp, incisive white is a better choice. The lively acidity of these whites is a superior match for the deceptively potent acidity of fresh tomatoes, even when they are charred or cooked. Fianos from Campania, carricantes from Mount Etna and vermentinos from Liguria are intuitive pairings, but my secret weapon is from France: Bourgogne Aligoté, the stealth white from Burgundy. Aligoté is lighter and more acidic than chardonnay, and generally made in an unoaked style. The flavors of a good aligoté meld beautifully with fresh tomato sauces and the other recipes here. Other options include good dry rosés, and light sparkling wines like good cavas or crémants from Jura or Alsace.
Pasta Fredda with Cherry Tomatoes, Anchovies and Herbs
Total time: 30 minutes. Yield: 4 to 6 servings
1 small red onion, finely diced, about 1/2 cup
Salt and pepper
4 anchovy fillets, rinsed and chopped, about 1 tablespoon
2 garlic cloves, sliced
Pinch of crushed red pepper
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
4 tablespoons fruity extra-virgin olive oil, plus more to drizzle
1 teaspoon chopped fresh summer savory or marjoram
1 1/2 pounds cherry tomatoes, in halves or quarters
1 pound dry pasta, such as spaghetti or linguine
Handful of torn basil leaves
1. Put red onion in a large bowl and season with salt and pepper. Add anchovies, garlic, red pepper and vinegar. Stir in olive oil and savory. Add the cherry tomatoes, season with salt, and toss well to coat. Keep mixture cool (or refrigerate) for up to 3 hours.
2. Boil pasta in a large pot of well-salted water until al dente, then drain and transfer to a wide low pasta bowl. Add cherry tomato mixture and toss well to coat. Drizzle with a little more olive oil and serve at room temperature, garnished with basil.
Tomato Tart with Fresh Mozzarella and Anchovies
Total time: 1 1/2 hours. Servings: 4 to 6.
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt, plus more for seasoning tomatoes
1/4 cup extra-virgin oil, plus 2 tablespoons and a little more to grease the pan
1 egg, beaten
1 large garlic clove, grated
1 cup thinly sliced onion
2 large tomatoes, sliced 1/4-inch thick and blotted
Ground black pepper
1/2 pound fresh mozzarella, thinly sliced
A few pitted niçoise olives, optional
A few capers, optional
8 anchovy fillets, rinsed and patted dry
1. Make the dough: Put flour and 1/2 teaspoon salt in a mixing bowl. Drizzle in 1/4 cup oil, egg and 1/4 cup cold water, then mix quickly with hands to make a soft dough. If dough seems dry, add more water, 1 tablespoon at a time. Form dough into a rough rectangle, wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
2. Heat oven to 425 degrees. On a flour-dusted surface, divide dough in half. Roll out one piece to a rectangle approximately 9-by-12 inches (reserve other piece for future use, or to make a second tart).
3. Stir 2 tablespoons olive oil and the garlic together in a small bowl. Put rolled dough on lightly greased baking sheet. Drizzle surface of dough with garlic oil. Scatter onion slices over dough. Arrange tomato slices over dough in one layer without crowding, then season with salt and pepper. Top tomatoes with torn mozzarella slices in one layer. Tuck olives and capers here and there, if using. Drape top of tart with intermittently placed anchovy fillets.
4. Bake for 6 minutes on bottom shelf of oven, then transfer to top shelf and bake for another 6 minutes or until nicely browned. Let cool slightly, then cut into squares. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Charred Tomatoes with Egg, Anchovies and Breadcrumbs
Total time: 30 minutes. Servings: 4 to 6.
1 day-old baguette or French loaf, crust removed and cut into 1/2-inch cubes (about 2 cups)
Extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper
2 cloves garlic, smashed to a paste or grated
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
2 pounds firm, ripe tomatoes
4 large eggs, hard-cooked for 8 minutes, peeled and halved
8 anchovy fillets, rinsed and patted dry
Basil leaves, for garnish
Parsley leaves, for garnish
Crushed red pepper, for garnish
1. Make the breadcrumbs: Heat oven to 350 degrees. Put bread cubes in a mixing bowl, drizzle with 2 tablespoons olive oil, season lightly with salt and pepper and toss well. Spread on a baking sheet in one layer and bake uncovered for 5 to 10 minutes, or until crisp and golden. Set aside to cool. When cool, crush into very coarse crumbs.
2. Make the vinaigrette: Put the garlic in a small bowl with the vinegar, mustard and a pinch of salt. Whisk in 1/4 cup of olive oil. Set aside.
3. Prepare a charcoal grill or light the broiler. Cut larger tomatoes into 1-inch-thick slices or leave smaller ones whole. Place tomatoes on the hottest part of the grill and let them char for about 3 minutes on one side if using a broiler, or place tomatoes on a baking sheet as close to the flame as possible. Tomatoes should still be firm.
4. Place tomatoes and eggs on a platter or divide among 4 plates. Sprinkle lightly with salt and spoon dressing over. Drape anchovy fillets over eggs and add a generous handful of breadcrumbs. Garnish with basil, parsley and crushed red pepper.