Monday, June 4, 2012

Easy Tomato-based Summer Sides

My family, like many others, focuses on the protein as the main dish for dinner. But sides are also important--they're what can turn a healthy meal unhealthy, or vice versa. As you can see in my posts, my family tends to eat very healthy year round, but it is especially true during the summer because we spend the weekends at my aunt's house on the Jersey shore. 

While some people call Jersey the "armpit of America", it is also known as the garden state--and for good reason, with such delicacies as jersey corn and jersey tomatoes. While most people's vision of New Jersey is the Newark airport and the drive into New York City, when you move away from the Turnpike and Parkway, there actually remain a ton of farms, growing vegetables and raising dairy cows. This means we have ton of fresh produce year round, and traditionally shop only at farmer's markets, where we can get the bounty directly from the people growing it. 

I highly recommend, if you have access, to do the same. I've written before about my beloved Fairway, but perhaps I haven't said enough about the Greenmarkets that pop up all around the city. I've also told you about my CSA, which goes a step further than farmer's markets and ensures that farms have the necessary support they need to continue their business.

So I'm going to share a couple of my favorite summer side dishes. They're quick, they're easy, and, of course, they're super healthy and focus on fresh produce--tomatoes in particular.

Summer Tomato Salad
A fast, simple and delicious salad that you can put together in a couple of minutes and is always a hit in my family. Simply chop up tomatoes and red onion, pick some fresh basil (my aunt lets me plant an herb garden each summer in the front of her house--when I pick the basil, the smell wafts over the porch and is apparently quite amazing in its fragrance), chop and add, and toss with a good olive oil and balsamic right before serving. That's it!

Caprese Salad
Another tomato-focused side. There is a market in Spring Lake Heights, called Drew's, which pulls mozzarella fresh every single morning. It is to die for. When you buy it, they tell you (multiple times) to keep it at room temperature. It is seriously AMAZING. You then slice up the mozzarella and alternate it with slices of tomato. This picture was taken a bit early, as I add fresh basil, drizzle olive oil over the slices and put some balsamic in the middle of the serving dish, as some people don't love balsamic. 

Unsurprisingly, my family adores grilling EVERYTHING during the summer. Our goal is to not turn on the oven--anything not on the grill should be microwaveable or, at the most, take a few minutes on the stove top. One of the most surprisingly delicious things to grill is fresh bread. We'll pick up a baguette from a market, slice it and put it on the grill with just a light brushing of olive oil. Sometimes we'll just serve that at dinner, but often we also make bruschetta to add on top. Think of this as the tomato salad in a blender--chopped tomatoes, minced red onion, basil, with the addition of minced garlic, tossed with olive oil and balsamic. Unlike the summer tomato salad, where you add the olive oil and balsamic right before serving, you should add it to the bruschetta mix about 15 minutes before serving so it can really soak in.

And now, our favorite summer side that, uniquely, does NOT include tomatoes...

Grilled Vegetables
Another easy recipe. All you do is buy some delicious vegetables (I usually buy red peppers, summer squash, zucchini, Italian eggplant, portobellos), and slice into thin pieces. Brush both sides with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Stick them on the grill until tender and serve!

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