Tomatoes and basil go together like hamburgers and the 4th of July. For this weekend’s Independence Day celebration, I recommend you use these two sensational summer ingredients to create a colorful, simple salad that is sure to create quite a bang. Culinarily speaking, of course.
Tomatoes are at the height of the season and bursting with flavor and, if your basil plant looks anything like my basil plant, it is also in full bloom and ready for a good cutting.
While a traditional Caprese salad with pillowy burrata or creamy buffalo mozzarella is always welcome, there is another–albeit unusual–way to prepare a tomato and cheese salad. This is a dish I have been enjoying for more than 20 summers and as soon as tomato season strikes, this is what I crave.
If you live in San Antonio, you might remember L’Etoile, the city’s most authentic and adored French restaurant. Located in the heart of Alamo Heights, this restaurant was the “it” place for decades. They had the best French onion soup, the freshest and most sublime seafood and the lobster mania craze in the summer officially got its start at L’Etoile.
This particular dish, however, was Chef Thierry Burkle’s father’s favorite way to eat tomatoes. Though never on the menu, regulars could request “Thierry’s tomatoes” any time local tomatoes were in season. In homage to his father, this was also Thierry’s favorite way to savor summer tomatoes.
Over the years, I ate my fair share of this spectacular tomato salad at L’Etoile and finally coerced Thierry into sharing both the history and recipe one night.
Why is it that the best foods are always the simplest?
The trick is super ripe and locally-grown tomatoes, diced Swiss cheese and lots of fresh basil. Add a good glug of high-quality extra virgin olive oil and a few splashes of champagne or white wine vinegar, a bit of coarse Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper and dinner is served. The mild flavor of the Swiss cheese allows the rich, robust flavors of the ripe tomatoes to be the star, while the basil adds a note of sweetness and beautifully complements this dish.
While L’Etoile is no longer, you can savor Chef Thierry’s culinary prowess at The Grill at Leon Springs where you will still not find Thierry’s tomatoes on the menu, but only available upon request. For me, this simple tomato salad is heaven in a bowl and could certainly steal the show at your 4th of July party.
- 2 large ripe tomatoes preferably organic and definitely locally-grown, core removed and sliced and diced into bite-sized pieces
- 3-4 slices Swiss cheese organic (if possible), diced
- A handful of fresh basil chiffonade or thinly sliced (I tend to use a lot of basil), plus more for garnish
- Coarse Kosher salt or Maldon salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- About 2 tablespoons good quality extra virgin olive oil
- 1 tablespoon champagne or white wine vinegar
Add the diced tomatoes to a bowl and include whatever juice you can after cutting the tomatoes. The juice is important. Add the Swiss cheese and the thinly sliced basil. Sprinkle with salt, add plenty of freshly ground black pepper and toss to combine.
Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and add the vinegar and stir well to coat evenly. Taste and adjust seasoning if needed. Garnish with more basil and serve immediately.