Wandering through my local farmers market earlier this week, I was struck by the huge range of tomatoes available nowadays: cherry and grape, Roma and pear, the traditional globe, the huge beefsteak, and all varieties of heirlooms. Being a die-hard cheese guy, naturally, I began to daydream about my favorite dishes that showcase both cheese and tomatoes in all their glory. There are endless combinations of these two partners-in-crime — from the tried-and-true to the incredibly creative — and here are five of my absolute favorites.
The most popular tomato-and-cheese pairing by far is the insalata caprese: sliced mozzarella and vine tomatoes served with olive oil and fresh basil. I like to step up this combination a bit by using buffalo-milk burrata, a much creamier version of mozzarella, and adding a drizzle of balsamic vinegar for bite. The milkiness of the cheese, sweet-yet-tart taste of the tomatoes, and acidity of the vinegar make for a perfect balance of richness and freshness; one bite and it's easy to understand why this is a classic.
The next cheese-and-tomato pairing is also quite traditional: jazzing up a grilled cheese sandwich with slices of beefsteak tomatoes. Butter a couple of wedges of crusty farm bread, add a dab of mustard and some sliced (or shredded) English Cheddar, then layer on slightly overripe tomato slices. Grill the ’wich until the cheese melts completely and the bread gets crusty for a simple but oh-so-delicious meal.
Yet another superb tomato-and-cheese showcase is what I like to call my “Californian salad.” Take fresh baby lettuce, thin-sliced red onions, creamy avocados, and plenty of tiny, sweet Petit Moineau heirlooms (they’re incredible), then shave curls of Parmigiano-Reggiano on top and toss with an intensely herbal green goddess dressing. It’s a heavenly match, bursting with color and flavor.
For a heartier dish, roast half of a savory Pritchard tomato that has been crusted with breadcrumbs, garlic, and dried herbs and topped with a thick slice of firm mountain cheese, such as Comté. All you have to do is place the tomato under the broiler until the cheese is fully melted, the top is well browned, and the tomato has wilted slightly. Great for both the summer grilling season and the cooler months ahead.
Last but not least, being the Southern boy that I am, I never pass up a chance to eat fried green tomatoes. My all-time favorite version consists of fried panko-crusted Green Zebra tomatoes layered with fresh goat cheese mixed with tarragon and dill. The crunchy fried tomatoes, creamy cheese, and soft herbal flavors always take me straight back to my childhood and the “ya’lls” and “uh-hunhs” start slipping out of me. Savoring this dish makes me completely forget I live in the big city; it’s as if the delicious tomatoes I’m nibbling came straight from my own backyard.