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Apr 26 2006

You Say Tomato, I Say My Mouth Is Full


Microscopic tomato salad with fresh mozzarella, microgreens, lemon zest, and olive oyl

I am so discomposed over these outrageously tiny tomatoes that I just had to post a portrait before I ate’em all. They’re like vegan caviar or something. When you put’em on a bed of tiny arugula sprouts, the resulting salad is so miniscule you cannot see it with the naked eye. The magnification factor on that photo is 100X, I swear to God.

47 comments

  1. Annie

    Now that is art! Having been born and raised in New Jersey, armpit of the nation and home to some of the best damned “tamadahs” ever, I am always delighted to learn of others finding tomato based felicity in their neck of the woods. And the greens look pretty fantabulous too!

  2. Annie

    By the way, what are those tantalizingly ambiguous white-ish slices on the left side of the image? Fresh mozzerella, perhaps…? Oh my!

  3. Mandos

    If Twisty is swearing something to God, you know it can’t precisely be true.

  4. Sasha

    Annie, I thought those were fine grilled slices of Ms. Oyl. Could be wrong, of course.

  5. Annie

    Oh! Just noticed the answer to me own query. Fresh mozzerella! Lovely stuff. I buy it from an Italian market around the corner, and very often it’s still delightfully warm.

    BTW – thanks, Mandos. I’ll keep that in mind, but I don’t come here for precise truth anyway. I come to blow off steam and enjoy the good food yarns.

  6. Pony

    Twisty’s salad startled me. I ate almost the same thing today. So this is why it startled me: Everything I ate is grown where Twisty lives (or nearby). Everything I ate was flown or trucked here at huge cost to the environment. When armeggedon comes WHAT’S FOR LUNCH?

  7. norbizness

    Well, I know what Gallagher would do in a situation like this.

  8. schatze

    That’s lovely. Did you eat it with tweezers?

  9. Marseeah

    ooohhh… Lemon zest. You are so smart with your dressing! I want that salad.

  10. ae

    Oh my God, that salad is beautiful. Tomatoes and arugula, two of the absolute best things our dimming globe’s ever seen.

  11. antelope

    Arugula is incomprehensibly yucky – I would even rather eat frisee. The other day I had to send an otherwise delicious salad back because they tried to pass off arugula as baby spinach. The waitress was indignant until she took it to the kitchen, where they admitted to their arugulan sins. I think the stuff tastes pretty similar to how Tub & Tile Sealer smells.

    The tomatoes look stunning though – I want some to materialize before me this moment.

    - The salad troll

  12. Summer

    Your lovely (and, I am sure, wonderfully tasty) diminuitive salad and my repulsive (and, I can assure you, thoroughly disgusting) massive egg foo yung would have been great opponents in a David v. Goliath Dinner Royale Death Match.

    (To see the offending yung, go here: http://static.flickr.com/45/130584693_f967e82935_b.jpg )

  13. Ron Sullivan

    Maybe arugula’s like cilantro — something congenital makes some people taste Yuck, and some people find it nifty. Geez. I like arugula. I bite leaves off the arugula in my garden, even after it’s bolted, just to improve my mood. I like it with thinly sliced kumquats and a dash of vinaigrette and maybe a bit of some allium or other.

    But then I’m the sort that gets excited right now because the ramps have arrived at the produce temple.

    Teeny little cherry tomatoes are neat the way salmon eggs are neat, because of the way they pop when you bite them. Hm. Arugula and salmon eggs. What would you dress that with?

  14. Mandos

    I was once sold chow mein by a Chinese takeout in Baltimore that lacked noodles. (Yes, you heard that right.) I didn’t complain, because I was on a limited budget for my 2week stay there, and it was a lot of food for a low price. It lasted me a week before going bad. I salvaged the culinary situation at the end by going to a very nice Korean restaurant with the money I saved.

    I know that the sale of noodle-free chow mein was not an accident. Some colleages of mine went there the day after and ordered chow mein. They got “chow mein” without noodles. They complained (unlike me). The white woman at the counter said that they were a Chinese restaurant and chow mein lacks noodles. One of my colleagues was Chinese. The white woman didn’t believe her (my friend).

  15. Mandos

    Oh, and, simply cannot imagine what it must be like to be born with taste buds that reject cilantro.

    I am neutral on argula, but as I said before, I like frisee. Thank you very much.

  16. Kaka Mak

    I hate cherry tomotoes. I’m mad, looking at that picture. When those things show up on my salad, I feel cheated. I would have poured my Sofia all over that mess if I were you, T.

  17. Kaka Mak

    Lest anyone think I’m a big meanie, let me say I like the little slabs o’ mozz very much!

  18. Annie

    I eat cilantro as a mood elevator too, Ron, it does the same thing for me as sushi (though after that Moonie Sush “Tail” Twisty told, sushi may have lost its affect). And arugala? Mmmm. They call it “rocket” in England, I think. And I don’t care what they call it; arugala tastes like lovely leaves of spicy bacon-esque delight!

  19. Sara

    What a lovely salad. I think of those little grape tomatoes more as candy than caviar; they are so sweet when ripe. I also love the little yellow pear tomatoes. Mmmm mmmm mmmm.

    All these tiny tomatoes, right up to cherry size, are best eaten surreptitiously, right off the vine and still sun-warm, while the taster/gardener is supposed to be doing something else, something less pleasant such as rearranging the weeds. Second best is when you buy a fresh-picked, perfectly ripe little basketful fresh from the farm (’cause you ate all your own crop for the time being) and you pop them into your mouth compulsively while driving home. Maybe you drive around the block a couple extra times just so you can have them all to yourself.

    I suspect that any time these guys actually make it into a salad represents either tremendous force of will exerted by everyone along the supply chain or an enormous purchase ample enough to allow satisfaction of many, many loving, greedy hands and mouths along the way.

  20. Sara

    Oh, and Ron, I love the idea of arugula and kumquat salad. How delectable! And as for salmon roe and arugula, I’d use just the teeniest jot of wasabi paste. But I would also not toss the roe with the arugula, rather make a little pile of the roe in a bed of the arugula and then top it with the wasabi bloblet. Tiny wasabi, though, tiny. The oil of the roe will carry it everywhere it needs to go in your mouth.

  21. Annie

    Incidentally, today is “Take Your Daughter to Work Day” of all things. This “event” bugs me. I have taken my daughter to “work” every day since the day she was born, and when I take her to my “job” it has generally been an act of benificence toward her father, the patriarch, who “could not possibly get anything done with her there” I am told. But today is different. He has scheduled the day on his calendar and planned it for weeks. freeman, I ask you, does it make Big Al a feminist because he is bringing his daughter into the law office and has all kinds of pint-sized versions of his work planned for her? Of does it make him one of many priviledged white dudes who gets to show off his very pretty and perfectly coiffed (by Mom) daughter to a captive audience that is entirely willing to tell him what a swell fella he is, and just as willing to call me (and other women who MUST occassionally take their daughters – and sons – to work) uncommitted, unprofessional, blah, blah, blah….VOMIT!

    Sara, pass the tomatoes, please.

  22. saltyC

    you need to put a scale reference in there, like a quarter or something.

    I guess it’s gone now.

  23. Twisty

    Yeah, I thought of that too late. But I just went and measured the plate, which is 4″ square. Really, it was a very small salad. These were not “grape” tomatoes, but “pearl” tomatoes. What’s next? Goat pill tomatoes? Buckshot tomatoes?

  24. Sara

    Wow. I’ve seen “currant” tomatoes. I wonder if those are larger or smaller than “pearl” tomatoes, or if it’s all dependent on who’s writing the marketing spiel?

    Exquisite-looking salad, though.

  25. Pony

    When I married a GERMAN man long ago I used to have to scour the earth for baby potatoes for him. Baby everything. Full grown food wasn’t good enough. Our neighbours, who had been starving concentration camp survivors (and early on displayed sympathy for me and the children which puzzled me then but I came to understand later) were horrified and explained to me what waste this was. Each eye of a potato planted will make one plant, which gives many whole large potatoes up to one pound each. To nourish. To sustain.

    We are getting too damned precious.

    I’ve seen those little tomatoes next to the bags of little potatoes. For 1/2 pint the grape tomatoes are almost $5. For a bag of just over one pound, the baby potatoes are the $7.

    Oy vey.

  26. TP

    Arugola is a kind of little Italian weed that they put in their salads straight out of the ground. It is bitter, and anything bitter can offend the palate of those who don’t ever eat bitter things. Generally, eating arugola without good balsamic vinegar requires something else sweet to cut the bitterness.

    There was another weed that had to be cooked to be eaten, very bitter, called Ortica that grew in every ditch in Modena. Cooked and mixed with some cheese it made the best god damned tortelloni I ever had. Tears come to the eyes when I think of it.

    I was thinking about how biased our palates are against bitterness the other day as I cooked dinner while getting outside of a tiny bottle of Sanbitter, the Italian digestivo that’s much like Campari but without the alcohol. Once you start the educated food nut on the bitter stuff you often can’t stop them. The balances and subtleties brought out by mixing bitterness and sweetness, salt and sour, are incredible.

    Most people stick to salty or sweet. It’s really a pity. I think I shall blame the patriarchy. What ho!

  27. Annie

    TP, I have also heard (I forget where) that some people are born with palates that are particularly sensitive to sour and bitter. I happen to be a fan of both. I also tend to have a pretty heavy hand with garlic, and I love pungent cheeses. Salt and sugar are welcome in my mouth, but only seldom with the kind of unbridled enthusiasm I generate for bitter greens, key limes, garlic, onions, truffles, and cheese. This is not to say that I take no joy in subtle flavors. May it never be! But there is much comfort to be found in strong flavors. I do think that the Chinese mainlanders seem to be particularly adept at the kind of flavor mating you mention.

  28. Thalia

    Gah. Cilantro tastes like burning cooking oil.

    Pony, far as I know the teeny tomatoes aren’t “baby” or they wouldn’t be ripe; they’re bred to be tiny. I don’t think that’s a waste, as the plant grows them by the zillions, and anyway I do believe that’s the ancestral form for tomatoes. Which fro what I understand, are perennial vines that grow really huge in their native Mexico, if I’m remembering correctly.

  29. Sara

    That (25) is an excellent point, Pony.

    You know what other ultra-precious nibbles Germans in general seem to adore? White asparagus. Friends of mine who have lived in Germany tell me that the Germans just can’t get enough of the stuff. Some friends and I have related this vegetable appropriately to the Patriarchy:

    http://www.saraarts.com/hf/asperge.html

    Puerile jokes are sometimes the best kind, especially when they involve silly foods.

    Purple asparagus, now, is not a silly food. It is incredible, so sweet and tender you can eat it raw. If you can ever find it, buy it, wash it, find a private corner, and snarf it down all by yourself. Then go buy some more to share with others. Better yet, grow your own: http://www.pendletons.com/crowns.html It is amazing chopped up in salads.

    More about asparagus: http://oregonstate.edu/Dept/NWREC/asparagu.html

    TP (26), while I’m blatantly hijacking this thread to talk about vegetables (sorry, Twisty) rather than getting on with my own garden prep (okay, okay, I’m taking a break from it), I must recommend a sorbet to you and anyone else who loves bitterness used properly. If you are fortunate enough to live where you can find Blue Moon sorbets from Vermont, do try the grapefruit campari flavor. It is everything you described — well, not salty, but light and sweet and sour and bitter and icy, an amazing series of sensations in every spoonful. It’s expensive (approx. $5.00 per pint), and, speaking of naughty, wasteful behavior, you might be unable to restrain yourself from eating the entire thing in one sitting, but oh. Oh. Oh, my.

    Really, really wonderful.

    Okay. Back to the garden.

  30. Pony

    Regarding scale for Twisty’s salad shot: I think that’s a salad fork poised right of the plate.

    Baby tomatoes: Thalia I think the small tomatoes are delicious, and I’m in love with good food too. But there is a lot of energy by way of money, land, water, and indentured labour invested in growing food and shipping it hell and gone. I still think we’ve become divorced from the sense of it.

    TP I’ll be foraging wild greens again this year. I love bitter. How about a list? I haven’t heard of what you’ve mentioned. Not that I will be able to find them, but I’d like to know more.

  31. TP

    Pony, I have to beg your forgiveness. I should have paid more attention to some of the great things I ate in Italy and learned to distinguish them by their scientific names. I have no idea what ortica is in english. I suspect it might be poison ivy. They said it made you itch if you touched it…

    I hope someone else knows more about this than me. I have heard that dandelions are crazy good for you, and I just bet they are bitter. I do hope someone more informative will chime in!

  32. Pony

    Ortica is “stinging nettles”. Yes we have them here. All over North America. I suppose they might be slightly different than the Italian ortica. Worth a try TP.

    This is from a herbal medicinal site: “Stinging Nettles Ortica Urtica dioica L.- Tiny hairs/stingers applied to the skin ease arthritis pain. If you “accidentally” encounter this plant, common plantain or burdock leaves will ease your skin. Dried stinging nettles in capsules or as a tea. Highly effective for allergies, especially allergy to animal hair and dander, also supports the liver and kidneys.”

    Although this site is ostensibly about chocolate it includes a soup recipe for Ortica:

    http://chocolateandzucchini.com/archives/2006/04/soupe_aux_orties.php

  33. antelope

    Up this way, Alaska Natives have used nettle tea as a mood lifter for a really long time – so maybe your tortelloni was so good because it was drugged (oo-ooo, scary noises).

    I like unsweetened coffee, probably the #1 bitter thing we go for in this culture, but I also like chard, mustard greens, chocolate & orange marmalade done so that they’re way too bitter for most of my friends. I love the bitterness that comes from giving food a good charring, but that arugula, man… maybe it is genetic because it just makes me feel like someone put their finger directly on the yuck button and pushed really hard. And this salad that I couldn’t stand had a slightly sweet lemony dressing on it that would’a been excellent with other bitter things.

    It’s like tapping on my yuck button to just think about arugula. I’m gonna go brush my teeth now.

    On the bright side, the next time that stuff sneaks up on me, I will thank my lucky stars that my aversion is to arugula and not cilantro. I couldn’t live without cilantro, and now that I hear that it’s also a mood lifter I will definitely try a window-box of it this year.

  34. Annie

    What’s the scale of those tomatoes in relation to those magnificent little caviar-ish “champagne” grapes? If they can pack flavor and texture and mouth joy like that into a tomato I’d get a substantial thrill.

  35. Ron Sullivan

    Pony, Benadryl’s supposed to be good for nettle itch, too, if there isn’t plantain in sight, which would be unusual but not unheard of. I tend to carry little tubes of things in my pockets lately, and that’s one such thing. When I remember it.

    TP, Annie, I think I acquired my liking for bitter stuff early, as I used to steal Daddy’s beer about as soon as I could crawl. (He had the habit of putting the bottle on the floor beside his chair.) Real beer, too, Stegmaier, and this would have been 1950; not pale swash like Bud. One of the blessings of the last couple decades has been the renaissance of real beer.

    Know what’s not wasteful about teeny tomatoes? You can grow them in places like San Francisco and they’ll ripen without lots of sun and heat. I’ve had feral Sweet100s turn out just fine here in Berkeley. I bet they’re good for places with a really short growing season too.

  36. Annie

    Ron, that’s interesting about aquiring a taste for bitter via daddy’s beer. So do you think it’s genetic or coincidental by way of a child’s curiosity? For me it was my grandfather’s nightly scotch at the dinner table. I’d crawl up in his lap and sip after him while he gave us the post mortem on his day. I don’t think of scotch as bitter, of course; it’s kind of smokey, but it’s still an odd flavor for a 4 year old to like. My grandmother got me onto bitter greens by way of broccoli rabbe. I’m second generation American from the southern Italian diaspora and come from a line of poor farmers. I was taught a lot about how to make something out of nothing, and how to get all kinds of greens into all kinds of meals. I think the soups are may favorite.

  37. Mandos

    I have a niece (cousin’s daughter, really) who has a continuous craving for broccoli. She’s 4. It’s difficult to get her to eat a cookie. It’s the oddest thing, like her parents have trained her to be Reverse Girl.

  38. Annie

    Ya, Mandos, so when she hits her rebellious teenage years she’ll be whipping up Broccoli Coladas when her parents aren’t home and distilling Kale in a shed down by the river. My kid eats a lot of greens willingly, but Jeez, a continuous craving? Yikes! Good thing most 4 year olds are potty trained. But hey, now that I think of it, I remember hearing from someone that it’s normal for little kids to go through food fixations like that.

  39. Pony

    Ron

    Tyler’s Honest Herbal (Steven Foster & Varro E. Tyler PhD) recounts this bit of folklore about nettle itch:

    Nettle in, Dock out
    Dock rub nettle out.

    Then says:

    “No objective evidence supports this claim, aside from the fact that firm rubbing–by itself–was found to produce a short-lived lessening of the pain inflicted by laportea species. It is also possible that the time and effort spent on finding a dock leaf is sufficient to distract the victim from the itching caused by nettle rash.”

  40. Pony

    Anyone know how to make brocolli rabe edible? I’m determined I’m going to like this stuff.

  41. Annie

    Garlic, Pony, lots of wonderful garlic! And if the bitterness is what turns you off, try blanching it a bit first in some salt water and a pinch of baking soda. I prefer it bitter, but I know others don’t. Also, when you saute it don’t be afraid to scorch it just a bit. That carmelizes the wee bit of sugars in the plant.

  42. Pony

    I eat bitter and truly love it. Arugula, wild greens etc. but brocolli rabe defies me. Trying again. Thanks Annie.

  43. Annie

    Pony, I was that way with beets. The greens I could deal with, but the bulbs I just couldn’t cope with for the longest time. However, like you, I was determined. In my mind, beets were just too beautiful to be cast aside. Not sure why, but probably because I am frequently slow on the uptake about idiotic and obvious things (my head being so frequently up my ass about “serious” shit), I’d failed to consider that I’d only ever eaten the prepared beets from cans and jars. Once I started fussing with them myself I became a true devotee. Now I eat ‘em up raw, roasted, even once enjoyed borscht made for me by a Russian student I tutored. Shit, I’ve even been known to plop a few of the nasty ones from the salad bar on my plate. I’m not sure if it’s to remind me of what beets aren’t supposed to taste like, or if it’s some wacked out narcissistic power move on my part: No Beet Will Defeat Me! or something moronic like that. So…MOTS: don’t give up on the broccoli rabbe.

  44. Ron Sullivan

    I dunno, Annie, I’ve always been an adventurous eater/drinker. I don’t recall ever having been (or being told I’d been) one of those kids who’ll stick anything in her mouth, and I wasn’t the class birthday-candle or crayon eater. Maybe /flips hair/ I’m just a sensualist at heart.

    Pony, try a dash of lemon juice or vinegar on the broccoli rabe. And I second the garlic notion.

  45. winna

    Why does my food never look as good as Twisty’s? That salad is almost too beautiful to eat.

    What is the difference between white asparagus and regular asparagus? I love asparagus, but the white asparagus always looks suspicious to me, as if it were raised in a nuclear power plant. And asparagus is such a beautiful plant anyway, with the subtle purples and greens and the bright green against the plate when it’s blanched. I live on it this time of year.

  46. Pony

    I’ve done all that , she wailed. I’m thinking the rabe I get here is too mature. Or took to long to fly here. I’ll check it at the farmer’s markets come July. For now, kale and mustard greens simmered, drained, chopped and sauteed in olive oil with garlic, blended (leftover from last night’s mujadara) carmelized onions on thinly sliced levain French toasts.

    See. I know my way around a kitchen.

  47. Sara

    That’s it; I’m going seed-shopping tomorrow. I can’t plant tomatoes out here until after Memorial Day, but I can start the seeds in my little water-wicking greenhousey thingies from Lee Valley (http://www.leevalley.com), purveyor of awesome and reasonably priced gardening paraphernalia.

    I want hundreds and hundreds of tiny tomatoes this summer. I can’t wait.

    Oh and by the way, nettle people, I recently tasted a glorious, tangy, creamy gouda which had a liberal sprinkling of nettle leaves in it. Though hitting a patch of them while wearing shorts in Alaska one summer sent me to the bath to soak in cold tubsful of Dr. Bronner’s Peppermint Soap (the liquid stuff) in a very strong solution for about a week, aged into cheese these things are absolutely lovely. If you see this cheese at your local fromagerie, do ask for a sample. I bought a quarter pound while my true love was on vacation in China thinking I would save some for him to try, but instead ended up eating the whole thing that afternoon without even the benefit of crackers. I just kept shaving off thin slice after thin slice and letting each melt on my tongue, and before I knew it, well, the cheese had vanished and another pound or so had been added to my hips.

    Winna, hit some of my links (in post 29) to learn more about asparagus. The white stuff is white because the growers keep it buried as it grows, so it never develops chlorophyll. This is expensive and silly, but apparently irresistible to the German palate. The purple stuff is sweet, tender and edible raw. The ordinary green stuff you apparently already know.

    I blame the patriarchy for the fact that I don’t have purple asparagus in my mouth right now. Of course, if I had a higher IQ, maybe I could think of a way to change that, but since I don’t I’ll just have to wait for the season to develop.

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