“Then followed that beautiful season… Summer….
Filled was the air with a dreamy and magical light; and the landscape
Lay as if new created in all the freshness of childhood.” – Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Childhood summers seemed long and carefree; don’t you remember that? I recall at the beginning of summer vacation, thinking it would be practically forever until I had to study spelling words and do math again. The summer days were filled with riding bikes with friends all over the streets of St. Joe Beach, playing in friends’ yards in their pools and sprinklers, and taking afternoon naps during the frequent rain showers that would roll through, ever so briefly. Those were excellent times.
One of my favorite summertime memories is the frequent trips I made down the street to the beach with my mom, sister, and grandparents. We would spend several hours searching for shells and swimming. We could find whole sand dollars on our beach then, as well as shells like lightning whelks and the shiny brown Florida fighting conch. We loved watching the coquinas being washed up onto the shore, only to burrow quickly down into the sand, away from view. When a wayward starfish would be stranded on shore, we would cast him back out into the gulf, certain that we were saving his life. The beach was a magical otherworld.
We’d walk for miles, or at least it seemed like miles to my short legs at the time, occasionally stoping the shell search to chase the petite sandpipers who pranced ahead of us along the shore. We’d end up with a lovely collection of shells in our bright-colored plastic buckets to take home for mom and Grammy to make crafts with. They made beautiful shell-filled glass lamps, shell-covered wreaths, and even refrigerator magnets, with the treasures we collected along the beach.
We’d build up quite an appetite spending those hours of discovery at the beach, an appetite that Grammy’s sandy peanut butter crackers just barely held at bay. We’d drag ourselves back up the street after several hours, have a sandwich with Granddaddy on his favorite pumpernickel bread, and then we’d walk on home.
Mom would get to work on dinner while my sister and I took naps in front of the t.v. in the late afternoon. I can only imagine she was thankful for the peace that ensued after the two of us were worn out and quiet. She’d often make a big salad for dinner on those hot evenings, filled with fresh chopped tomatoes, boiled egg, and crumbled bacon. She often made her dressings from scratch, and would have them set out in small china bowls for us to dip into. She would serve the big salad with barbecued chicken, or some fried fish or shrimp, and we’d be in heaven at dinnertime when dad came home from work.
I still love a fresh, cool salad in the summertime. In my own kitchen I like to try new salad combinations, and I came up with one recently that I think is special enough to share with you. If you’re like me, you love basil, and perhaps even have some growing in your yard or in a pot on your deck. This salad makes good use of that herb’s delicious summer-y flavor. Not a fan of basil? Try a small amount, a tablespoon perhaps, of fresh thyme or oregano in its place. You can add more if needed, but taste first to make sure, as those herbs are very strong in flavor.
In this salad, I also used some creamy white goat cheese, also called chèvre, but if you’re like my husband and don’t care for it, use an equal amount of soft, fresh mozzarella instead. It comes packaged as white orbs of cheese that you can chop and add to salads, pasta dishes, and more. It has a mild, slightly salty flavor.
I chose heirloom tomatoes for this salad because I love the color and flavor variety, but regular red grape or cherry tomatoes will work just fine.
Heirloom tomato salad with fresh basil and goat cheese
2 pounds of heirloom grape or cherry tomatoes, halved
1/3 cup torn fresh basil
3 to 4 ounces goat cheese, chopped
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 ½ tablespoons white wine vinegar (or substitute balsamic)
1 teaspoon minced garlic
½ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon crumbled bacon (optional)
1. Whisk together oil, vinegar, garlic, and salt in a small bowl to make vinaigrette. Set aside.
2. Place tomato halves in a large salad bowl. Sprinkle basil over the tomatoes, then drizzle with the vinaigrette. Toss to coat. If possible, allow to marinate 30 minutes.
3. Top with chunks of cheese and sprinkle with bacon, if using.
Note: If using dried herbs, use 1/4 the amount called for when using fresh. Add slightly more if desired.
Copyright 2016 Stephanie Hill-Frazier. All rights reserved.