Isn't it lucky that just when it's too hot to cook, tomatoes are at their sweetest, ripest and juiciest? At least it feels that way, like a serendipitous reward for suffering through a heat wave.
Before moving to New York, I never quite understood the reality of relentlessly humid summer heat. I had certainly spent time in hot climates, but my reference for a good number of years had been the chilly San Francisco summers no one believes exist until they visit. When the cold fog settles in there, you have to bundle up to grill outdoors.
Here, I've adapted to a different agenda. Get to the market early, before the lettuce is wilted. Stick to the shady side of the street and avoid the subway if possible. Cook in the morning, if at all. Go into siesta mode. Develop a strategy to get through outdoor errands (even the dog doesn't want to go outside). Dine late, like the Spanish. Take a steamy stroll at midnight.
But back to tomatoes. That's the saving grace: Vine-ripened tomatoes are finally here. Year-round hothouse tomatoes don't begin to compare.
Even at the farmers markets, though, there are good ones and great ones. And the best tomatoes may not be the prettiest. Often, it's the gnarly, misshapen, split-topped tomatoes that have the sweetest flavor. Or you can seek out the extremely ripe, must-sell-today tomatoes that some farmers discount.
They are perfect for this kind of chilled tomato soup, which can only be described
The soup can stay in the fridge all day to be sipped at leisure. For a more substantial sit-down version, I add avocado toasts and a bright sweet pepper relish. As for the rest of the meal, still no cooking required. I would serve cheese, olives and some good sliced ham, with peaches for dessert. Because who wants to heat up the place?
New York Times columnist David Tanis is a former Chez Panisse chef.