There's something about the month of August that feels like absolute indulgence. It might be because autumn is just around the corner -some trees have already begun to wear fall colours- and the mad dash to enjoy every last bit of warmth before the permanent chill settles in takes the form of unbridled hedonism... Or it might just be the fact that just about every food one has been craving the rest of the year is available in abundance right now. Who knows, but I tend towards the latter.
And nothing feels more luxurious than biting into a ripe tomato still warm from the sun. My own tomatoes are really late this year, and I have momentary doubts that the tiny green buds will actually swell up into anything substantial, but I remain hopeful.
While I will always remain partial to eating dead-ripe tomato in its simplest state, I will occasionally tweak with it ever so slightly. Just to enhance its gorgeous flavours. One thing I like to do when the weather permits is to roast cherry tomatoes. A long, slow roast is simply delicious, but a quick, searing roast can be rather interesting: the charred skin brings notes of smokiness, and a bitter tang to counter the sometime excessive sweetness of really ripe fruits. The technique is often used on tomatoes destined for the salsa bowl, and is also effective for tomatillos.
Any tomato can be roasted, though cherry tomatoes still attached to the vine can double as dramatic flourish on a plate. However, I do find it a tad sad when a bunch of out of season roasted tomatoes are used as a mere garnish to a grilled piece of fish or meat: only the sweetest, in-season tomato should be roasted, then, and only then, do they fully deserve centre stage on the plate. And what better way to play them up in a revised Italian classic: the Caprese salad.
Everyone knows the paring of tomato and mozzarella: a sprinkle of torn basil leaves, a splash of olive oil, it's now old hat to most, and has been more than overdone in many restaurants. To revive this tired classic, roast cherry tomatoes on the vine in a blistering hot oven, in a dry pan over high heat, or over hot coals on the barbecue. Once you get some good char marks, turn down the heat, and let the tomatoes soften a little in the heat.
Serve still warm or at room temperature draped over the best fresh mozzarella or bocconcini you can find, drizzled with some olive oil, a pinch of salt and a generous grind of pepper. Purist will say that balsamic vinegar should never touch this salad, but I am not a purist... A few drops of balsamic vinegar or glaze will accentuate the caramel notes of the charred tomatoes, and that can only be a good thing. If you can manage to find some, try this revisited Caprese with some Burrata: this Pugliese specialty is basically a ball of fresh mozzarella filled with cream. The flavour is even milder than regular mozzarella, and virtually screams 'fresh milk'. Sprinkle with a few basil leaves (or better yet, basil flowers) if you have them, and indulge!
If you are not too keen on the idea of stuffing yourself silly with cheese, the roasted tomatoes would also be lovely in this niçoise salad.