The most perfect tomato salad I’ve ever tasted was made by wine writer Anthony Giglio following the formula of Lucia Lo Presti, his Sicilian mama-in-law. She dresses her tomatoes with salt and very good olive oil at the very last minute, a tavola, while everyone is seated at the table. This is because the salt will cause the juices in the tomatoes to run and tomatoes should be eaten at the perfect point, while both juicy and firm but well before total collapse – that is, soon after they are dressed.

In making the salad from memory, I had forgotten that Anthony adds thinly sliced leaves of fresh basil, as it seemed not to need it. Anthony reminded me that it is indeed important. He uses either chiffonade of large leaves, or, if I go to Lucia’s to pick it, the tiny piccolino basil leaves she brought back from Sicily.  My lesson in making the salad without the forgotten ingredient was that salt and good olive oil were the essential catalysts that amplify the tomato’s flavor and texture.

The salad’s lushness always makes me feel intoxicated, as though I’ve been at the beach all day.

Sally Schneider

Recipe:Mamma Lucia’s Insalata di Pomodoro 

Be sure to dress the tomatoes just before serving.

Ripe tomatoes
Extra-virgin olive oil
Fresh basil, either a chiffonade of large leaves, or tiny whole leaves
Loaf of crusty bread, sliced thick
Slabs of fresh mozzarella, or spoonfuls of burrata

Slice the ripest tomatoes you can find into wedges and place in a bowl. Cover lightly but do not refrigerate. Just before serving, salt them generously and toss them gently with a large spoon or your hands. Add an abundant amount of extra-virgin olive oil (for mopping up with bread), tossing again, with basil if desired..

Spoon the mixture into shallow pasta bowls. If you want, and have access to freshly-made mozzarella, place a slab on top of the tomatoes. Serve with thick slices of crusty bread for tearing off big pieces to mop up the juices.

Sally Schneider

Sally Schneider

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2 replies on “A Sicilian Cook’s Perfect Tomato Salad

  1. hello,
    tomatoes and mozzarella salad is not sicilian food.
    mozzarella is a typical cheese of Campania (Naples region).
    in fact, in Italy we call “caprese” (from name of Capri island)this kind of salad.
    sorry, it’s not parochialism but italian food ; )
    anyway I agree, it is a very good salad
    thanks for your great work


  2. Thank you. It’s always good to know the true details, that mozzarella is typical of Campania, that the tomato and mozzarella salad may originate there… But I think you’re missing an essential piece: that the salad was made by a person, who evolved it into her life in America, taught it to her son-in-law…and ultimately to me, each person changing it slightly. And that the piece is really about essential tomato lessons: salt will bring out their true flavor…dressing them just before serving is the way to capture their bright moment of flavor.

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