August: Traditionally hot and humid, it’s the month I used to fill with doctors appointments before heading back to school. Of course, that was many years ago and since that time I’ve added a few new associations: the air and water show, which I dread because it takes place mere blocks from my apartment; and heirloom tomatoes, which I love and dream about throughout July. Dread and a dream, a reassuring balance knowing those two events will occur every year.
And with heirloom tomatoes I always want avocado. It started the very first time I worked with heirloom tomatoes during culinary school when I was charged with creating a southwest-style side dish for a banquet. I scrounged through notes and books until I discovered an heirloom tomato and avocado salad with a cumin vinaigrette. There were no words to describe how good it was except to say it blew me away. Not only did I ace that assignment, but one of the toughest instructors took home the leftovers. Granted, I’d wanted them but was in no position to fight her.
Now every August when heirloom tomatoes are at their pinnacle, the first dish I make is indubitably a combination of heirloom tomatoes and avocado. It’s a beautiful collaboration of rich, creamy avocado that cuts into the sweet and acidic tomatoes, which in and of themselves burst with flavor.
While by no means complex, last year’s salad was a bit busy with chicken, champagne vinaigrette and toasted almonds. This year I wanted to create a simple celebration of flavors to enhance the tomatoes with peppery arugula, aged balsamic vinegar and a bit of chiffonade basil. Simple and delicious and a highlight of the season.
Here’s the recipe:
Heirloom Tomato & Avocado Salad II - serves 2
2 cups arugula
1/2 avocado, cut into bite-sized pieces
1 cup heirloom tomatoes cut into bite-sized pieces (2 to 3 tomatoes in different varieties)
2 teaspoons aged balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon thinly sliced fresh basil
Arrange the arugula in the bottom of a serving bowl. Toss the diced avocado with the lemon juice, then mix with the heirloom tomatoes and season with a pinch of salt. Arrange the tomatoes and avocado on the arugula and drizzle the balsamic vinegar over the top. Garnish with the basil.