Stacked Tomato Salads

Last week, the weather was as hot as it has been all summer.  We opened windows, turned on fans, and slept in a cloud of humidity under thin July sheets.  We ate cold Tomato Stacker Salad because we couldn’t even think about heating up the kitchen.  After a little wind and rain on Thursday, out came sweatshirts and jeans.  We slept better under fleece blankets, still with windows open but breathing deep fall air. This time, we made an opposite kind of salad, rich and warm Hot Tomato Stacks.

Our hours, whatever the weather, are full of tomatoes—big crates of romas and canners that we see even in our sleep.  But the days are getting shorter, the nights are getting cooler, and we are sensing the end of something.  As a result, we are eating as many fresh-from-the-field tomatoes as we can.  A tomato is a veggie (fruit?) that still can’t be replicated on grocery store or in the off season and these two salads make the most of them; in both, you rebuild the tomato shape, stacking tomato slices with fresh mozzarella.  However, Tomato Stacker Salad is cold and spiked with basil and balsamic. The other, Hot Tomato Stacks, is similar to something they once served at The West End Tavern in Lakewood: a hot combination of tomato slices, sautéed sweet onions, and cheese that gets all melted in the oven before making it to the plate.

You want to make both salads NOW, while the tomatoes are at their tomato-y best.

If the weather is warm: the cold Tomato Stacker Salad:

You’ll need:

A round tomato for each salad
A handful of basil leaves, cut into strips, with a couple left intact for garnish
Fresh mozzarella, cut into thin round slices. (This is NOT pizza cheese.  This is the milky soft mozzarella cheese that comes either packed in water or sealed in plastic.)
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
GOOD Balsamic vinegar, like this one that we pick up when we go to the markets.

Build the salad by first removing the stem from the tomato with a paring knife.  Cut the tomato into slices.  Put the bottom slice on a plate.  Top it with a slice of cheese, a sprinkling of salt, pepper, and basil, and a drizzle of vinegar.  Continue to rebuild your tomato in this fashion until you have used up all of the slices.  Dress with a final drizzle of vinegar and garnish with a basil leaf.  I call this a salad, but it is enough for dinner!

If the weather is cold: Hot Tomato Stacks

A round tomato for each salad
Onions, figure ½ an onion for each Tomato Stack
Fresh mozzarella, cut into thin round slices
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Good balsamic
Olive oil
Wooden skewers, like for shish kabobs

While you are preparing the dish, soak the skewers in water so you don’t have to worry about them catching fire in the oven. Preheat the oven to 375.

Slice the onions thin and sauté them in a drizzle of olive oil until they are soft and translucent.  Remove from heat.

As above, use a paring knife to remove the stem from the tomato.  Slice the tomato thickly.

Build the Hot Tomato Stacks in an oven proof baking dish—I used a stoneware pie plate.  Put the bottom slice down, top with sautéed onions, a slice of mozzarella cheese, salt and pepper.  Continue building the tomato stacker in this fashion but end with a piece of cheese.  Put a skewer into the stacker to hold it together. Make as many as you want and then stick them in the oven.  10 minutes is probably enough.  You are not trying to cook anything; you just want the cheese to melt. (Watching carefully, I turned my broiler on for the last 3 minutes or so to bubble the cheese on the top.)

Serve these dressed with a good balsamic drizzle.  One is enough for two people, even when served as a main dish.

Enjoy these Stacked Tomato Salads as a reminder of warmer days.  A change of seasons is just around the corner

See You at the Market.