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Posts Tagged ‘provolone’

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I used to hate fresh tomatoes. Growing up in New Jersey, that was as heretical as blasting Conway Twitty music on the street outside the Pony.* I said it anyway, though. And to be fair, the supermarket tomatoes I grew up eating were hardly flavorful. Grown strictly to withstand shipping and handling, picked unripe and hit with ethylene gas**, they were pink, watery, and a bore on the taste buds.

Then maybe eight years ago I had a fling with an heirloom tomato and became even more smug in my distaste of remotely grown fresh tomatoes. Heirlooms taste like the berries tomatoes are: tender and richly flavored.

Yesterday I walked into Asbury Park for lunch—well, for the makings of it. First I stopped by a local organic farm stand run by a woman in a floppy straw hat. When I picked up one of the two tomatoes on display, I asked if she had raised them herself. She said she had, and warned me that the tomato I held ‘wasn’t perfect.’ I gave it a little squeeze, and a tiny bit of juice oozed out. It was probably two hours off the vine, a youngster in a new town. I told her I don’t care about perfect, and bought it.

Then I went to the bread stand run by a gregarious Roman guy. As he talked to customers he sliced up narrow anchovy-provolone sandwiches, casually handing bits to passers-by.*** Sold me two rolls for a buck. ‘Thank you, sweet dahling!’

Then I walked home, stopping by the lake to pick some wild mint.

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The tomato sandwich with basil is a time-honored thing, and for good reason. I figured mint and basil are cousins, so I’d give that a whirl. Picked a bunch—some for my sandwich, more for my friend who loves to cook and wouldn’t look at me the way the anti-Conway-Twitty crowd would. It takes a rare person, Jerseyan or not, who will not look at me askance for eating plants I picked by a lake. She is one of them.****

I sliced up the roll and gutted it a bit—I don’t like too high a bread-to-filling ratio—and added a slice of Trader Joe’s addictive mozzarella, a little bit of mayonnaise, and kosher salt. The juice from the tomato mixes with the mayo and makes the bread a little soppy, but that’s a plus.

You can try to build a quicker, better, cobbled-together summer sandwich than this, but it won’t work. Okay, maybe if you use two slices of cheese. I’m reasonable.

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*That’s bad. Trust me on this one.

**You’re smacking your lips at that image, aren’t you? I shouldn’t tease so.

***Several turned up their noses; I almost bit his hand off.

***This just occurred to me: the friend I mention is one of three good friends who are first-generation kids (Filipino, Italian, and Japanese). I find in cases such as this there is a stronger connection to where food comes from, and less of a tendency to be afraid of it. Kind of fascinating.)

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My first experience eating a fig was on a tropical island when I was about ten. I tried one of the figs my sister ordered for breakfast. (Kind of inexplicable, really, why the hotel offered them. You’re in the Caribbean where you can’t throw a rock without hitting papaya and mango trees, and they serve canned Kadotas?) My review: it was way, WAY sweet. And that’s coming from a kid. You couldn’t tell anything about the character of the fig itself; it just tasted like very cold, amalgamated syrup.

Many years later I bought some fresh figs from a local specialty store prized for its produce. I didn’t like their bitter aftertaste, and I wrote off figs from that point on.

A couple of years ago, mostly to be polite, I tried some fresh, organically-grown figs. I was visiting the home of my parents’ housekeeper, Katerina, an Italian ex-pat. As we went in, she idly pulled a handful of Black Missions off one of the small trees near her front door and I popped one into my mouth. Wow. Third time’s the charm and all that. It was sun-warmed, delicately sweet, oozy, and soft as a raisin. I waited for the bitter aftertaste. Nothing. I concluded that it had beenĀ  pesticides that had made the figs I bought from the store so disreputable.

Having said that, unless you have a generous and green-thumbed Italian housekeeper, it can still be tough to find figs that taste as they should. Even organic figs, if shipped from the far reaches of the universe, can be as yucky as eating a tiny water balloon. Ideally, figs should be picked when quite soft, even with their delicate skins split, to enjoy fully their honeyed sweetness.

The turkey figs shown here are from Silverton Farms in Toms River, a place to which I’m fiercely loyal, and now will be even more so. When Tom, who owns the place, showed me his fledgling fig trees this past spring, I gasped like a middle schooler with new lip gloss. And I’ve been counting the days until they were ready.

Yesterday was the day. Lucky me, that was the day I happened to show up, and even luckier me, I bought all four, pretty much right off the tree. MINE.

You can do all kinds of things with figs. For a memorable lunch, slice some in half, put on white bread with provolone and prosciutto, and panini-fy it.

But yesterday I appreciated them pretty much as is—a couple drizzled with local honey, and the rest just as their soft, luscious, plain selves.

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