Tomato lust

I really should have written this a month ago when Ohio’s tomatoes were at their peak and I could practically drive to Rainbow Farms blindfolded to stock up on the heirlooms and little yellow grape tomatoes – each a perfect, delectable bite.

But today the weather heated back up to about 85 and I felt tomato lust descending upon me again. After working out at the Y, I headed out to Rainbow Farms to see what might still be available. I was delighted to find some pretty golden tomatoes, a sweet onion, a shiny zucchini and even one last ear of corn to cook up tonight before I bid summer veggies adieu for this year. Rainbow Farms already has a really happy-looking field full of pumpkins by the parking lot, plus a variety of squash and apples in the store.

Fall may be my favorite season weather-wise, and I love the changing colors of the leaves. Autumn is so dramatic, don’t you think? I will miss summer food, though – in particular, the tomatoes.

I don’t think I became a serious tomato enthusiast until visiting Italy seven years ago or so. There I was introduced to the Caprese Salad, which is something I would not think I’d especially like – but now I’m hooked on it. Named after the island of Capri, Caprese Salad is simply slices of fresh tomato alternating with slices of fresh, soft mozzarella cheese, topped with a drizzle of olive oil, balsamic vinegar and some chopped basil. I also like a little garlic, salt and pepper on mine.

I also adore bruschetta, which is kind of like Caprese Salad on little toasted rounds of baguette – but without the cheese (well, and add some chopped onion). Again, not something I thought I’d like since I have this abhorrence for wet bread. Yes, you heard me. Wet bread, as in bread pudding, soggy French toast, Thanksgiving stuffing, etc. The texture makes me want to gag. And therefore, I hesitated before trying a tomato/oil/vinegar concoction on bread. Fortunately, the bread is crispy enough that it doesn’t  get soggy. It might if you loaded up the toasty rounds with tomato and let them sit awhile, but that’s not how it is supposed to be served.

The best bruschetta I ever ate actually was on Capri, which seems fitting. Now I make it all the time; some is marinating in the fridge right now. I’ll take it out to get to room temperature before I indulge at dinner time tonight.

I know I waffle on about Italy fairly regularly here, and with good reason. I mean, Italy rocks. It just does. I defy anyone to say otherwise.

But one thing about Italy I’m going to say here that most people would either be surprised to hear me say, or may flatly disagree with me about, is that I don’t think the food in Italy is as good as it is here in the U.S. Aaargh! Blasphemy! How could she?!

Well, I won’t go into all the reasons why I believe this to be true at this particular moment. It’s just hard to think about lusting after great tomatoes without Italy coming to mind. I’m going to go out on a limb here though and tell you that when it comes to pizza (more tomatoes – yum!) Italy really can’t hold a candle to what we have here.

First of all, they are very limited when it comes to crust. Mostly the crusts are thin, and most often they’re on the soft side. Tasty, but not as good as the more substantial crust we’re accustomed to here with just about any reputable pizza.

Next, the toppings are more limited and a little strange looking, to tell the truth. Mostly you either order margherita pizza – tomato, cheese and basil, or what looks like a margherita pizza with the afterthought of some rounds of almost translucent salami thrown on top. Papa John’s and Georgio’s are just two of the chains that leave “authentic” Italian pizza in the dust.

Italians would probably be horrified by some of our unusual pizza combos, like Hawaiian pizza or Mexican or pizza with barbecued chicken and ranch dressing. Yes, I know they’re pretty far off the beaten track – but they’re delicious! So who cares? My folks liked pizza with either Italian sausage, or with pepperoni. If they were really feeling wild, they’d add some green peppers.

I like traditional pizza as much as the next person, but variety really is the spice of life.

Lord, how did I get off on this tangent? And now I can’t figure out how to stop.

Let me just conclude by advising one and all to gather ye tomatoes while ye may, because what passes for a tomato in Giant Eagle in December isn’t worth a splatter of Wesson Oil, let alone your good olive oil. Ciao!

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