The sweetness and rich, almost meaty savor of a great tomato finds its perfect complement in the bright, slightly peppery, wonderfully aromatic flavor of basil. When the two of them are so generously available, I have a difficult time not eating them at every meal: in breakfast omelets and frittatas, in lunchtime salads and sandwiches, or giving big personality to dinner's main-course sautes, sauces and gratins. And, of course, everyone knows what an invaluable role they play in pizzas.
Salads, of course, welcome both ingredients raw. But, especially when summertime heat makes you feel reluctant to spend too much time in the kitchen, or even over the grill, there's an easy way to transform tomatoes and basil into a sauce requiring almost no cooking at all, by making a tomato-basil vinaigrette.
Isn't vinaigrette a salad dressing, you might be asking? Well, yes and no. The full name in French is sauce vinaigrette, literally a "little vinegar sauce." Most often, these sauces play the role of salad dressings. But that doesn't mean they can't take on other roles in a meal.
Peel, seed, and dice juicy sun-ripened tomatoes, for example, and combine them with some garlic and shallots, fresh basil and parsley, and a little vinegar, citrus juice, and olive oil, and you get a thick, juicy sauce that's bursting with flavor at room temperature. Top it with a just-cooked hot protein -- such as the sauteed shrimp in the recipe I share here, or any other seafood, poultry, or meat you like, cooked indoors or out on the grill -- and you have one of the easiest light main courses imaginable.
I encourage you to use the best available tomatoes from your farmers' market. The dish will look especially beautiful, and taste wonderful, with an assortment of heirloom tomatoes in different colors and patterns. Just be sure to follow the directions in the recipe for removing the tomatoes' skins and watery seeds. (You can also prepare the recipe with little cherry, grape, or pear-shaped tomatoes, which do not require peeling or seeding.)
Add some crusty bread to sop up every last drop of the delicious sauce, and you've got a perfect light meal for a summer evening - or a memorable appetizer to share before a larger dinner. And all without spending more than just a few minutes cooking!
SAUTEED SHRIMP WITH TOMATO-BASIL VINAIGRETTE
1 pound sun-ripened tomatoes
2 garlic cloves, peeled
2 medium shallots, minced
3 tablespoons chopped fresh basil leaves, plus 4 small basil sprigs for garnish
1 tablespoon minced fresh Italian parsley leaves
Freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon fresh organic lime juice
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
16 jumbo shrimp, about 1 pound total weight, peeled, tail fins left on, deveined
Bring a saucepan of water to a boil over high heat. Meanwhile, fill a mixing bowl with ice cubes and water and put it on the counter nearby.
When the water is boiling, use the tip of a small, sharp knife to cut out the cores of the tomatoes, and then cut a shallow X in the skin on the opposite side of each tomato. With a wire skimmer or slotted spoon, lower the tomatoes into the boiling water. Boil just until their skins begin to loosen and wrinkle slightly, about 15 seconds; then, lift them out with the skimmer or spoon and transfer to the ice water to cool.
Meanwhile, put the peeled garlic cloves in the boiling water and boil for 1 to 2 minutes. Then, remove them with the wire skimmer or slotted spoon and transfer to the ice water to cool.
When the tomatoes are cool enough to handle, remove them from the water. Peel off their skins, starting at the X, using your fingertips and, if necessary, the knife. Cut the tomatoes crosswise in half and scoop out and discard their seeds with a fingertip. Cut the tomatoes into 1/2-inch dice and set aside in a small mixing bowl.
Drain the garlic cloves and pat dry with paper towels. With the knife, cut them lengthwise into thin slices. Then, stack the slices and cut lengthwise into thin julienne strips. Add them to the bowl with the tomatoes, and add the shallots, chopped basil, and parsley. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Stir in the vinegar, lime juice, and 1/2 cup of olive oil. Stir well and set aside.
Lightly season the shrimp with salt and pepper. Heat a 10-inch skillet over medium-high heat. Add the remaining olive oil and, when it is hot and fragrant, add the shrimp, working in batches if necessary to avoid overcrowding the pan. Saute until they turn bright pink but are still tender and moist, about 1-1/2 minutes per side, taking care not to overcook them.
Spoon the tomato mixture onto 4 serving plates. Arrange the shrimp on top. Garnish with basil sprigs and serve immediately.