This is the most impressive and beautiful salad! And, as if that weren’t enough, it’s absolutely delicious—even Bruce, who would never eat a tomato if left to his own devices, loves it enough to go back for seconds. The recipe was in The New York Times on July 23, 2008 as part of an article about Jersey tomatoes. I make it regularly as a vegetable/carb side when Bruce grills meat, and I serve it for girls’ lunches with some buffalo mozarella and hummus. It is time-consuming, but well worth it (everyone asks for the recipe!). Key is not to make it too far ahead of the meal because it can get too soggy; if you finish the assembly an hour—even two hours—before you sit down, it will be fine. Just don’t make it in the morning for a dinner party, which is what I did the first time.
About 10 oz. day-old, chewy peasant style bread, sliced
2 garlic cloves, peeled
1 1/4 cups extra virgin olive oil
4 T red wine or sherry vinegar
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
About 3 1/2 pounds very ripe tomatoes, plus 1 tomato for garnish
About 1/3 cup finely shredded fresh basil, parsley or cilantro leaves, more for garnish (I use basil)
1 shallot, finely diced, or 1/3 cup finely diced red onion, more for garnish
1 small cucumber, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced, peeled if thick (I find I need two cucumbers)
(serves 6 to 8)
Toast or broil bread and rub lightly on one side with garlic; reserve garlic. In a bowl, whisk oil, vinegar, salt and pepper.
Core tomatoes. Slice top and bottom off each tomato and reserve. Cut tomatoes in half from top to bottom, then cut crosswise in 1/4-inch-thick slices. Scrape all juices into vinaigrette. Take reserved top and bottom slices and coarsely chop. Scrape into a strainer, salt lightly and set over vinaigrette. Press and smash tomatoes in strainer with a spoon and leave to drain.
Take a flat-bottomed bowl or dish, at least 3 inches deep and with a capacity of at least 1 1/2 quarts (I use a souffle dish). Rub with reserved garlic, then discard garlic. Line bottom of dish with a layer of bread (beforehand, I put a little olive oil in the bottom so the cake comes out easily), cutting to fit dish if needed. Cover with a double layer of tomato slices. Sprinkle with some herbs, shallot and cucumber.
Whisk vinaigrette with tomato juices, then drizzle a few tablespoons over salad. Cover with more bread, then press with a spoon to encourage tomatoes to release juices. Repeat with remaining ingredients, finishing with a layer of tomatoes and reserving some of each ingredient for garnish. (I end up with three layers of everything.)
Cover dish with parchment or plastic, then take a plate or flat-bottomed dish that will just fit inside salad. Place on top, press firmly, then add a weight to keep dish compressed (such as a large can or two of tomatoes…or I use a five-pound barbell). Set aside at room temperature for about an hour.
Salad should be oozing and moist. If it seems too dry, drizzle remaining vinaigrette over top. Taste juices; if they seem underseasoned, correct with more oil, vinegar, salt and pepper.
To serve, slide a knife around edge of salad, then place a serving dish over top and carefully flip both dishes over to turn salad out onto serving dish. If salad does not release, rap dish firmly on counter. Chop remaining tomato. Garnish salad with tomato, herbs, shallot, and cucumber, and sever cut into wedges or in large spoonfuls.