This is the quintessential summer dish for me. I remember visiting the vegetable garden (giardino) during late summer to pick what my Mammina Loreta needed for dinner that evening. I did not like fresh raw tomatoes when I was young, they were mushy, often mealy so I avoided them in their raw state.
NOTE: Check out my cousin’s blog about his grandfather’s giardino in NY, this amazing man continues to cultivate a traditional Italian garden that rivals most I have seen. The featured video showcases his tomato plants for this summer’s season.
One summer, when I was visiting my Zio Antonio in upstate NY, he took us to see his late summer garden overflowing with ripe vegetables of all kinds. I loved walking through the gardens, picking fresh peas, green beans and cucumbers and eating them right then and there.
Italians are very proud when they give you a tour of their gardens (giardino) each summer, loudly boasting how their plants and vegetable yield are of superior quality to all others.
Zio Antonio stopped to pluck a ripe, beautiful red tomato and said we were going to eat it. I explained my dislike but he refused to give me a pass. He took a chunk of crusty Italian bread, sliced the tomato in half and rubbed it on the bread, pressed it down and sprinkled some salt and handed it to over to me.
I closed my eyes and took a small bite, the bread was soft and chewy, the tomato was still warm from the warm summer sun and the flavor was just… well, dare I say… perfect.
He smiled at me as no words were needed. That warm summer day cemented my eternal devotion to fresh, organically grown vine ripe tomatoes that have reached their peak flavor and texture.
NOTE: When buying tomatoes at the local store or farmer’s market, choose those that are firm and do NOT refrigerate them. Store them in a clean bowl on the counter or table at room temperature and allow them to ripen as you use them throughout the week.
Heirloom tomatoes are my favorite variety and I seek them out when I can for all my raw recipe applications. I always choose a mix of color (red, yellow, striped deep reddish-brown) for the best overall flavor mix. You can also use ripe beefsteak red tomatoes or even plum tomatoes at their peak of ripeness.
A traditional and delicious compliment to this tomato bruschetta is a bowl of homemade ricotta. This soft, creamy cheese works beautifully with the ripe tomato and crisp, crusty ciabatta bread. You can buy ciabatta bread at any reputable Italian deli or bakery, or ask your local grocer if they carry this as it is the best choice for this dish.
cimelio pomodoro bruschetta con ricotta fatta in casa
4 to 5 heirloom variety vine ripe tomatoes
1 loaf ciabatta bread
extra virgin olive oil
fresh basil leaves
homemade ricotta (see recipe below)
NOTE: I found this ricotta recipe after watching an episode of “Extra Virgin“ on The Cooking Channel. I love that Gabriele and Debi made this with their girls so I adopted their recipe for our famiglia.
1 lemon (grated rind)
Slice the ciabatta bread into medium thick slices and place them on a cookie sheet. Drizzle them with olive oil and sprinkle with some salt and pepper to taste. Bake or broil in the oven until crisp and toasted (turn them over in the cooking process to toast both sides evenly.)
Slice the washed and dried heirloom tomatoes into thin, even slices and set aside in a large plate or bowl. Prepare the fresh basil leaves by pulling them off the branches and set aside.
Remove the ricotta from the fridge and let sit for a few minutes to remove some of the chill. Grate the lemon zest into a small bowl and set aside.
Once the ciabatta toast is done and slightly cooled; assemble the tomatoes as you like and top with the ricotta, basil leaves and sprinkle of lemon zest. Drizzle with olive oil, salt and pepper to taste and serve immediately. I enjoy this at all times of the day or evening, I have been known to eat this dish for breakfast when tomatoes are at their finest.
NOTE: A new favorite tomato recipe I love is Pan Con Tomate, a traditional tapas dish that originated in northern Spain in Catalonia. Try this delicious way to enjoy fresh summer tomatoes.
It’s a brilliant example of simple ingredients at the peak of flavor, and one that I will be creating more this summer and in the summers to come.
ricotta fatta in casa (homemade ricotta)
4 cups whole milk, organic preferred
1/2 tsp. sea salt
3 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
cheesecloth for straining
Heat milk, salt and lemon juice in a medium skillet on medium heat until thermometer (frying thermometer is good here) reads 175 degrees. The milk will begin to bubble and start to form steam. Stir this mixture, but be very mindful not to over stir as you see the whey begin to form (you do not want to end up with ricotta that is too stiff.)
Once the whey has formed, pull off the heat and let this sit for 5 minutes undisturbed and you will be left with a very creamy positive result. Line a metal colander with clean cheesecloth and place over a large deep bowl. Add the mixture of curds and liquid to strain. Pull the cheesecloth together tightly and allow to drain for about 5 minutes or so (be sure not to remove too much liquid at this point.)
Remove the finished ricotta from the cheesecloth and place in a well-sealed container and store in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.
Note: Photography provided by Annette L. Venditti & Daniel Venditti