Maybe perfect tomatoes are meant to be worshiped simply — sliced and sprinkled with good salt, a few drops of real balsamic, and some torn basil.
That non-recipe has the best effort-to-benefit ratio I can think of. But around a decade ago, I first tasted an idealized version at Lucques, a restaurant in Harold Lloyd’s old carriage house in Los Angeles, and since then, when it’s tomato season (now) and I have the time (as often as possible), I make the amped-up salad (published in Sunday Suppers at Lucques and in a variation below). It’s a mix of as many varieties of the best heirloom tomatoes you can find, freshly made croutons, an herbal vinaigrette, and burrata to balance the acidity and add depth. It’s a cousin of the panzanella and the Caprese but really is something different.
Preparation involves several steps, but none is difficult. The dressing holds the recipe’s flavor-boosting secret: garlic, oregano leaves, and coarse salt pounded to a paste. If you want to simplify, make the dressing and mix it with tomato wedges.
Now that burrata is made by BelGioioso in Wisconsin, it’s easy to find in the metro area. Burrata has a fuzzy history. It seems to have arrived in Los Angeles around 1993 with a cheesemaking immigrant from Puglia, Italy, where it originated in the last century (anytime from 1920 to 1970, depending on the source). The name means either “buttered” or “bag,” again depending on the source. I vote for buttered (burro is butter in Italian, after all). In any case, it’s a thin shell of mozzarella holding a filling of mozzarella scraps and cream. It’s best very fresh, so look for the latest pull date.
When your vines or favorite farmer present you with colorful, delicious heirloom tomatoes, consider this recipe, and have fun tearing bread into leaves, cutting open a mildly explosive ball of burrata, and relishing a perfect salad.
HEIRLOOM TOMATO SALAD WITH BURRATA, TORN CROUTONS, AND BASIL
Adapted from Sunday Suppers at Lucques
⅓ pound ciabatta, levain, or baguette
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon fresh oregano leaves
½ clove garlic
1½ tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
½ pint (6 ounces) cherry tomatoes
3 pounds large heirloom tomatoes (feel free to use more cherry tomatoes and fewer large tomatoes; go for a variety of colors and sizes)
Maldon or kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
¼ cup fresh basil, rolled together and sliced (green and opal mixed is especially beautiful)
¾ pound burrata (look for the latest pull date)
½ cup thinly sliced shallots (optional)
¼ cup flat-leaf parsley leaves, rolled and sliced
1. Preheat the oven to 375°F.
2. Cut the crust from the bread and tear the insides into leaflike shards around 1½ inches long. Place on a baking sheet and sprinkle with 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Squeeze the bread so it absorbs the oil. Bake until the croutons are light brown, but not necessarily crisp to the center. Watch carefully. This should take around 10 minutes.
3. Add the oregano, garlic and ¼ teaspoon of salt to a mortar and pound to a paste. Alternately, chop with a knife, occasionally running the knife over the mixture, mashing and flattening it. Place the paste in a small bowl and add the vinegars. Stir. Then gradually beat in 6 tablespoons of oil. Season with salt and pepper.
4. Cut the large tomatoes into wedges and halve the cherry tomatoes. (Optional: I like to peel the large tomatoes, but this is not necessary. If the tomatoes are quite ripe, you can peel them without employing the usual technique of immersing them in boiling water for 10 seconds.) Place in a large mixing bowl. Add the optional shallots. Sprinkle with ½ teaspoon of salt, some grindings of pepper, and half the basil. Toss once or twice. Add about ¼ cup of the dressing and toss again. Taste for seasoning.
5. Add the toasted bread to the bowl and briefly toss the salad.
6. Turn the salad onto six plates. Cut each ball of burrata in half, or into 4 wedges, depending on size, and carefully arrange it around the edges of each salad. Sprinkle the tops with the remaining basil and the parsley.