Making the Most of Your Tomatoes

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Photo by Ellen Silverman

This summer, field tomatoes that are the season's perfect pleasure will be rare and expensive, due to the terrible blight that is causing enormous losses on farms across the Northeast. My advice for the tomatoes you are lucky enough to find is that they are best savored with little adornment--just enough to maximize the experience of ripe summer tomato.

The often-overlooked key? Every tomato needs a little bit of salt to make its flavor vivid. Then drizzle over excellent extra-virgin olive oil--maybe a drop or two of sherry or balsamic vinegar--and/or a few torn basil leaves, and you're all set.

The best manifestation of this formula is the tomato salad recipe of Lucia Lo Presti, wine writer Anthony Giglio's Sicilian mama-in-law. Its lushness will make you feel intoxicated.

Lucia dresses her tomatoes a tavola, at the table, while everyone is seated and waiting. (The salt will cause the juice in the tomatoes to run and you want to eat them at the perfect point before total collapse--that is, soon after they are dressed.)

Recipe: Mamma Lucia's Insalata di Pomodoro

Slice the ripest tomatoes you can find into wedges and place in a bowl. Salt them generously and stir them with a large spoon, or toss with your hands. Add an abundant amount of extra-virgin olive oil, tossing again.

Spoon the mixture into shallow pasta bowls. If you want, and have access to, REAL, freshly made mozzarella, place a slab on top of the tomatoes. Pass a crusty loaf of bread around for tearing off big pieces to mop up the juices.

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Sally Schneider writes The Improvised Life, a lifestyle blog about improvising as a daily practice. Her cookbook The Improvisational Cook is now out in paperback. More

Sally Schneider is the founder of The Improvised Life, a lifestyle blog that inspires you to devise, invent, create, make it up as you go along, from design and cooking to cultivating the creative spirit. It's been called a "zeitgeist-perfect website." She is a regular contributor to public radio's The Splendid Table and the author of the best-selling cookbooks The Improvisational Cook and A New Way to Cook, which was recently named one of the best books of the decade by The Guardian. She has won numerous awards, including four James Beard awards, for her books and magazine writing.

Sally has worked as a journalist, editor, stylist, lecturer, restaurant chef, teacher, and small-space consultant, and once wrangled 600 live snails for the photographer Irving Penn. Her varied work has been the laboratory for the themes she writes and lectures about: improvising as an essential operating principle; cultivating resourcefulness and your inner artist; design, style, and food; and anything that is cost-effective, resourceful, and outside the box.

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