Once the ramps’ fronds have grown too fibrous to be good any more and the fiddleheads have opened to become the ferns they were destined to be, the next things I look forward to at the Greenmarket are tomatoes. I am one of the people who actually waits for tomato season to eat tomatoes because they just make little sense to me at other times. Sure that red thing they put on my sandwich at the deli adds moisture, a slight sweetness, and a slight acidity, but for me to buy tomatoes and consider them an ingredient they have to be locally grown, sweet, and juicy.
Saturday, while wandering around the Union Square Greenmarket I came across one of the two farmers I buy tomatoes from in the summer (the Jersey guys on the east side of the park, Tim Stark is the other) with the first taste of tomatoes cut up for sampling. I approached with great skepticism and tasted. Maybe it was because it has been a long rather mild boring winter since last I had one, or maybe the spring was so mild and wet they somehow got real beefsteak tomatoes to mature on the vine even before the smaller, faster-ripening heirloom varieties, but either way I was definitely pleased. Not as ecstatic as I would have been with a truly great picked-that-morning, fully ripe tomato in August, but pleased in the fact that this was a juicy, meaty tomato with genuine sugar development that had never been made dumb through refrigeration, even if the stems still clung.
So with four good-sized tomatoes in hand, I had a plan. I stopped at the bread guy and got a loaf of farm bread, then the lettuce and greens guys that have no signs for a head of oak lettuce, and the “seriously good bacon” guys for a pound of black boar bacon.
Walking home, I stopped at the 14th street Garden Of Eden and grabbed a 500 cl bottle of Catalonian organic olive oil made from the Arbequina olive because these tomatoes were finally my excuse to make the allioli on page 20 of José Andrés’ “Tapas: A Taste of Spain in America.” This book is inspirational enough that I wanted to set about the task of slowly drizzling a cup and a half of olive oil into a mortar while pestling four cloves of garlic, a pinch of sea salt, and the juice of a lemon wedge. But what I needed was the time and proper ingredient for inspiration.
These tomatoes were very good, not great (great tomatoes only want olive oil and salt, maybe a torn basil leaf and a twist of black pepper, little more). Very good tomatoes can use a little help and work better as part of an ensemble then in a solo. So here I was with rain starting outside, very good tomatoes, fresh lettuce, fresh allioli, a pound of bacon browning in a pan, a loaf of fresh bread to toast, and Pichon, Ringwald, and Vee on their way over for first of the season Greenmarket BLT’s. That’s what I call a good Saturday afternoon.