from "Living Within", July 2015
July is when I really want to be in the kitchen as little as possible. Simple food, served as the gods intended - sun on its back and the least possible in the way of tampering - is the way to go when the days are long and the outdoors beckons. Tomatoes are one of my favourite features of the month for the ease with which they make this possible. If you can find some that have a good pedigree, and where the plants have had some soil on their feet and some heavy duty sunshine in their ripening, use these for preference. The supermarkets will tempt you with bright colours, a variety of shapes and sizes and pretty packaging, but a good tomato needs to taste of sunshine and warmth, and to balance its sweetness with a little acidity, much more than it needs to look good - inner beauty is key, even if there is an attempt to use a little style in presentation.
Wherever you find your tomatoes, avoid putting them in the fridge when you bring them into the kitchen. Keep them at room temperature, let them take on a little warmth from the sun (especially just before you are going to serve them) and they will reward you with their fullest flavour.
In honour of the holiday season I am not going to cook a thing! And I am going back to barest basics and a slight ‘70s exoticism in the form of mozzarella and tomatoes. Only the mozzarella has improved on these shores since we knew it then. It has moved beyond the basic and the rubbery to something creamier and fresher. Look for it packaged in its own whey, and check the dates (it doesn’t last too long). If you are really lucky, you might even find some fresh burrata - like mozzarella on the outside, though creamier than it on the inside, and melt in the mouth soft when you eat it.
Whatever you find, you can accent its flavour with a little marination. Take the mozzarella out of its whey and put it in a dish; sprinkle over some salt and pepper, a spoonful of cream (if you have it), and a spoon or two of good olive oil, then grate over some fresh lemon zest (from an unwaxed or washed lemon). Turn the mozzarella around in the marinade and leave somewhere cool while you prepare the tomatoes. I have used cherry tomatoes here, pictured, to match the tiny mozzarella balls (bocconcini) that I was using, but use whatever tomato size, shape and colour you like, and cut them how you will - sliced, halved, quartered, torn. Good tomatoes need not very much at all to give of their best - salt, pepper, olive oil (a few drops of balsamic vinegar if you have some good stuff and your tomatoes are not as quite as good as they might be), and some fresh herbs are nice - I used basil, but you could use oregano or other delicate herbs according to what is available, and your own taste.
Place the mozzarella and tomatoes side by side on a plate, or one on top of the other, drizzle over a little more olive oil and serve with good bread to mop up all the juices. What could be easier, or more completely luxurious?