The tomato has come a long, long way from its origins. It came to Europe with the explorers who returned home with it in the holds of their ships (or perhaps in their jewel boxes, as it was considered very valuable). They’d discovered it as part of the wealth of the Aztec nation, which had cultivated this fruit for untold centuries. It was then planted in Spain and in the area around Naples. The Italians used it primarily in sauces, and as it made its way to France it was greeted with fear, for when the blossom turned to red fruit, most people in France wouldn’t touch it, fearful that it was the work of the devil, poison incarnate. They did, however, use it as décor.
The Enlightenment banished the idea of poison in the tomato, and it became a staple on the French table, where it remains in all its glory. The French use it in all manner of ways, from stuffing it with pork (stuffed tomatoes are a staple at the charcuterie where they fly out the door) to serving it like this, simply, beautifully.
I cannot wait for you to make this amazing side dish, which is a salad deconstructed, all dolled up with herbs and that most secret weapon of the Mediterranean, the anchovy.
When I say dolled up, I do so with intention because I think when someone gets an entire half tomato all to themselves, they feel special. When they get two halves – which I sometimes serve, depending whether this is a first course or a side dish – it’s even more special because it embodies the notion of abundance.
Salting the tomatoes just a bit concentrates their flavor, which is already a heady mixture of sweet from the sun and tart from the seeds. The herbs contribute their own personalities, and the anchovies add that element of umami, anchoring this dish, giving it heft and importance without heaviness.
While I love to do plate service, I highly suggest you serve these on a large platter, because they are breathtakingly beautiful this way. And if you like, drizzle them with some oil right before serving. This is not essential but, particularly if you make them a few hours in advance, it will keep them lovely and bright.
TOMATOES WITH HERB SAUCE - TOMATES, SAUCE AROMATES
- 6 small ripe tomatoes, cored and cut crosswise, in half
- ½ teaspoon fine sea salt plus additional to taste
- 1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
- 4 oil-packed anchovy fillets drained
- 4 cups loosely packed fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
- 1 small clove garlic cut in half, green germ removed if necessary
- 1/2-1 inch piece fresh chile pepper such as serrano or jalapeno, or 1/4 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes
- 1/3 cup; 45ml extra-virgin olive oil
- Sprinkle the cut sides of the tomatoes with ½ teaspoon salt and let sit for 15 minutes.
- Combine the vinegar and 1/3 cup water in a small bowl. Add the anchovies and let them soak for 5 minutes. Drain and pat dry.
- Turn each tomato half upside down over the sink and shake out any liquid, then arrange the halves, cut side up, on a serving platter.
- Mince the anchovies, parsley, garlic, and chile pepper together.
- To serve, spoon an equal amount of the herb sauce over the top of each tomato. Serve immediately or let sit at room temperature for 30 minutes.