Gatto's tomato salad...
Whenever The Motley Monk takes a business trip that leads him to the south suburbs of Chicago, he does his best to have dinner at Gatto's Restaurant and Bar in New Lenox, IL. This is a wonderful and very reasonably priced Italian restaurant. Nothing fancy, just clean, neat, and straightforward meals and service. Every meal The Motley Monk has eaten at Gatto's was excellent, especially the homemade braciole (when it's on the menu).
There is one staple that's a "don't miss": Gatto's tomato salad. The Motley Monk always orders this salad when he dines at Gatto's. And, because The Motley Monk likes it so much, he has figured out the recipe and it's "secret" ingredient so that this salad is frequently served at HIH II, especially when fresh, vine-ripened tomatoes are available. (In the winter, store-bought vine-ripened tomatoes are okay, as are hot-house plum [roma] tomatoes that have been ripened on the window sill of a southern-exposed window.)
Gatto's tomato salad is very easy to make. But, remember: the ingredients need to set in the refrigerator for awhile so that the they get accustomed to one another. Perhaps an hour or so. When The Motley Monk is going to serve Gatto's tomato salad for dinner, he makes the salad right after lunch so the ingredients have the whole afternoon to get settled down.
First: slice the tomatoes in
half, then quarter them. Slice the quarters into bite-sized nuggets.
To avoid smashing the tomatoes and forcing the liquid and seeds out of the
quarters, hold the knife at a 60° angle to the cutting board. This allows
the top eighth of the knife to slice straight through the tomato quarters.
Place the tomatoes into a large mixing bowl.
Second: slice the fresh
basil en chiffonade. This is very easy to do, as The Motley Monk
learned from watching Pat Neely on the Food Channel. Simply place
the basil leaves one on top of the other holding onto them by the stem.
Then, on the cutting board, roll the basil leaves gently into a "cigar."
"Gently" because basil bruises easily. Holding the cigar by the base, cut
the basil into narrow slices with a knife, just like Pat Neely does as his
adoring wife watches on while talking away. It works.
But, The Motley Monk uses kitchen sheers, believing this technique
decreases the possibility of bruising the basil leaves. Add the basil to
Third: finely dice some red
onion. Not too much but enough. I used one quarter of a red onion
for this amount of tomatoes. Add the diced onion to the tomatoes and basil.
Fourth: add some salt, fresh
ground pepper, and olive oil (sorry, as much as The Motley Monk loves
garlic and may over use it in recipes as Emeril Lagasse suggests, use no garlic
in this salad if the tomatoes are fresh; if
not, then feel free to use garlic). Gently mix the ingredients together. Then add some
apple cider vinegar (The
Motley Monk believes this is the "secret" ingredient that Gatto's uses). Gently stir everything. Take a taste and
adjust the seasonings as needed. Place tomato salad into a container. Cover
the container. Place the container into the refrigerator.
Fifth: take the container
out of the refrigerator about one-half hour before serving so the
ingredients warm up a bit and the olive oil liquefies. Stir the
ingredients and spoon into salad bowls. Top with blue cheese (Saga blue
cheese, if possible). (The Motley Monk didn't have any blue cheese
in the refrigerator this day, so he used feta cheese...a good substitute but not
the very good salad that Gatto's serves with blue cheese.) Grind some
pepper over the salad and serve.
Serve with a warm baguette because mopping up the dressing from the bottom of the plate (or bowl) is a must!
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