Most of the world eats some form of tomato and cucumber salad. Italians like theirs with red wine vinegar and oregano, while in Greece they add olives. Spanish pipirrana combines the tomatoes and cukes with garlic and a mildly spicy green pepper. Egyptian salata baladi includes onion, parsley, and lemon, (the juice that collects in the bottom of the salad bowl is poured into a glass to drink separately). Indian kachumber adds radishes, cilantro, and cumin, while Israelis use mint, red onion, and parsley. The Germans add sour cream, the French stir in creme fraiche, and the Portuguese include roasted red peppers.
While you can make tomato and cucumber salads all year, late summer is the only time you can make one that tastes good. You need vine-ripened tomatoes with flavor, and here in the Pacific Northwest you find them as August gives way to September. Cucumbers are better, too, with choices beyond the usual waxy, thick-skinned slicers you find in the produce section.
Most of the time I keep it simple: tomatoes from the garden, thin-skinned Persian-style cucumbers (or try using pickling or Kirby cucumbers, they’re surprisingly good in salads), and a handful of herbs. A salad like this calls for the best olive oil and vinegar, and that means Don Alfonso extra virgin and Katz Orleans-method vinegar.
Cut the tomatoes and cucumbers into bite-sized pieces, chop some mint, parsley, or basil (or a combination), and add a good pinch of flor de sal to the bowl. Add one spoonful of vinegar for every three of olive oil, toss, and eat.
At the end of 1999 Judith and I were driving from Sicily to Rome to catch our flight home. I’d read about Don Alfonso 1890, a restaurant near the Amalfi Coast that I wanted to try, but it was closed the night we’d be passing through. We rented one of the rooms above the restaurant, and in the morning the owners offered to show us their farm.
Chef Alfonso Iaccarino walked us through the terraced farm on the steep hillside overlooking the Bay of Naples. Along with an abundance of vegetables, the farm had groves of olive trees, the fruit of which is pressed into oil for the restaurant.
Alfonso had to get back for lunch service, and we had a plane to catch, but as we drove away Judith said to me, “You should import that oil.” I knew nothing about importing, but when we got home I ordered a couple of cases. I wanted it all for myself, but thought I could sell a few bottles to help cover the cost. That was the start of Real Good Food, and 20 years later, Don Alfonso is still one of our favorite oils.
Get ready for the long weekend with the picnic knife from Opinel. Simple and dependable, we call this a picnic knife for its 2-in-1 functionality, and keep one in the glovebox at all times. The folding blade and corkscrew are in durable stainless steel, the handle in long lasting beechwood. Never leave home without it.
Subscribe to our RGF Fresh Box to get a weekly trove of delicious things. Spend $40 for $50 worth of RGF products from daily staples to our newest favorite condiment. Boxes will include ingredients and recipes to make some of our favorite recipes including Musaka’a, Peach Panzanella + burrata, blistered shishitos, the ultimate charcuterie picnic and so much more.