Years ago, one of my favorite high school teachers, Mary Lagerwey, handed me the recipe below because she knew I liked (loved, really) basil.
I’ve made this recipe for the past 15 years since then, with a few changes. After having children, I cut way back on the red pepper flakes, sometimes eliminating them altogether. If I forgot to seed the parsley on time, we’d go without. And in an unexpected (at least for me) turn of events, I became a garlic farmer, and this dish became flavorful in a way I never thought possible.
Then, this year, I saw fresh mozzarella in the store and for some unknown reason I was brought back to my time with Dan in Italy eating fresh cheese and tomatoes and basil right off the street and I wanted that again. Since a return trip to Italy isn’t in the budget (goodness, it was barely in the budget then–we were eating on the street!), I decided to use the tried and true tomato and fresh basil sauce from from Mrs. Lagerwey, bringing a little bit of Italy to our Indiana table. And the dish turned out to be delizioso–perfetto–gustoso! (That’s all I’ve got.)
Start with your tomatoes. I know the summer garden season is almost over, but you should still be able to nab a pound of ripe, juicy tomatoes from your garden or farmer’s market. I like to use a variety of colors–red, yellow, Green Zebra green–for beauty and flavor. Cut out the cores and seeds, toss them in the compost bucket, and chop the meat of the tomatoes into 1-inch pieces. Set aside the chopped tomatoes in a bowl.
Next comes the garlic! If you haven’t purchased any of our garlic yet, now’s the time to do so. (Yes, that was a shameless plug. For real though, the fresher your ingredients, the better this dish will taste.) Mince 3-4 cloves of garlic, then toss it on top of the tomatoes.
Now for the herbs. I used to be very particular about tearing my basil because long ago I read in one my herb books that cutting the leaves discolors them. I used to follow such directions. Three kids and vegetable farm later, I chop them quick as can be with my trusty chef’s knife. So chop (or tear) one cup of loosely packed basil leaves and a half cup fresh parsley, then toss the chopped herbs onto the garlic and tomatoes.
Add a half cup of olive oil, a pinch of red pepper flakes (or more, depending on your audience), 1/2 teaspoon of salt, a decent amount of freshly ground pepper, and a half cup of freshly grated Parmesan to the tomato/garlic/herbs. Toss this all together and let marinate for at least a half an hour, but preferably longer (if you can wait that long to eat this!).
When you’re ready to eat, slice a pound of fresh mozzarella, then lay the slices on a platter. (I used to make my own mozzarella, but now–yes, three kids and a vegetable farm later–I buy it at Costco.) Pour that lovely tomato-garlic-basil sauce over the tomatoes, and sprinkle another quarter cup of freshly grated Parmesan over the top. You can serve this with pasta, crackers or crusty bread, or we like to eat it as is. Whatever you decide, enjoy!