This is the time of year when Paul’s carefully tended vegetable garden begins to explode with tomatoes. Through trial and error, he has learned that, as much as we love the heirloom varieties, it is perhaps best not to install 16, individual plants so close together that one needs a machete to gain access to the actual tomatoes — if they could be seen at all, honestly — last year it looked like a stand of feed corn.
But the prize is, of course, mouth-watering Cherokee purples and Brandywines, Black cherries and every Roma under the sun. Day in and day out as they ripen they are picked and, having planted two lemon basil bushes as well, Paul serves up the long-anticipated caprese salad: thin slices of buffalo mozzarella layered with slices of tomato, drizzled with balsamic vinegar and garnished with chopped bits of basil. It is heaven on a plate.
“I could eat this every night,” I always declare, dipping a piece of crusty bread to soak up the balsamic after ingesting an enormous helping.
And I’m not alone. Friends who have been sent home with bags of these beauties are quick to express their gratitude by the following morning:
“I had your tomatoes last night with the basil and balsamic,” wrote one. “Absolutely fantastic. I’m in heaven!”
“These tomatoes take me back to my childhood,” said another. “I will never buy a grocery store tomato again.”
“Just the scent when you cut them open!” enthused a third. “I can’t thank you enough!”
And in the meantime, we had caprese salad three times the first week the tomatoes began to ripen. I couldn’t have been happier. By the third week, we were having it every other night and, as I do every year, I began to blanche at the sight of yet another serving of it.
“I thought you said you could eat it every night?” said Paul, as I pushed my plate aside, half eaten.
“It’s just that I’m full,” I replied. “The mozzarella is really filling.”
“That’s OK,” he said. “Tomorrow we’ll have gazpacho.”
And we did. Quarts and quarts of gazpacho. Gallons. I could swear my skin was turning Cherokee purple. Even our friends who swore they couldn’t get enough were now politely declining— one going so far as to say they were leaving on a monthlong road trip.
“You know, eating too many tomatoes isn’t good for arthritis,” I said by week four.
“You don’t have arthritis,” Paul replied, with his mouth full.
“I think I might be getting it,” I said weakly, as another bowl of gazpacho was placed before me. “You know, all things in moderation.”
“True,” he agreed, then smiled. “And variety is the spice of life. It’s probably time to lay off the tomatoes, anyway.”
“Oh?” I said, brightening.
“Sure,” Paul replied. “Got a bumper crop of zukes this year!”