Like a lot of things on the internet, it's difficult to ascertain the origins of Tomato Girl Summer. The Tomato Girl micro-aesthetic was seeded (ha) on TikTok, where it fruited into a bouquet of videos featuring linen-clad girls trailing secondhand novels through Italian vineyards. As Isabella Sarlija points out, Tomato Girl Summer is really an extension of a contemporary cultural obsession with the Mediterranean - if you love Call Me By Your Name, Aperol spritzes, and the second season of White Lotus, then you might just be a Tomato Girl.
Anyway, all of this is to say that I am obsessed with the absurdity of the name and, as such, have created a recipe directly inspired by the concept. Onwards.
Did you know that bread is one of the most wasted ingredients in a home kitchen? If you're anything like me (read: religiously buying a loaf of ciabatta at the farmer's market every Saturday), then you've got a lot of stale bread heels lying around. Few things pain me as much as wasting food, so I'm always trying to come up with ways to use the bread in creative ways.
That is how I created my latest recipe: tomato crouton salad.
I'm not normally one for salad, but this one (and our Beetroot and Crème Fraîche Salad) features a robust vegetable, some sort of cheese, and a lot of bread. It's perfectly good as a meal on its own, or as a delicious side dish.
One of the things that makes this dish really pop is the fresh tomato dressing, which was inspired by a recipe posted to Instagram by Carla Lalli. It is such a zingy, dynamic little dressing. Highly recommend for this dish and literally anything else that might require a dressing!
Ok, enough dilly-dallying. Let's gear up for a Tomato Girl Summer in the kitchen.
What you'll need from the shops:
For the salad:
A punnet of cherry tomatoes or similar (I have made this with large slicing tomatoes, but the smaller ones are better)
Bocconcini or plain old mozarella
Salt, pepper, and olive oil
For the dressing:
Extra cherry tomatoes or a large tomato (I had a spare beefsteak withering away in my fridge)
Sesame seed oil
A lime or lemon
How to make Tomato Girl Summer Salad:
Step One: Prep your kak
Preheat your oven to about 200 degrees Celcius. Prepare a baking tray (I'm always plugging my Humble & Mash silicone mat because it's a godsend for cleanup).
Now, cube your stale bread into little chunks and slice your little tomatoes in half. Zest your lemon or lime. We should be good to go.
Step Two: Make your croutons
In a bowl (or a pot, if you are bereft of mixing bowls like I am), chuck in your cubed bread and drizzle generously with olive oil. Psst - if you haven't taken a cue from Hulu's The Bear already, decant your cooking oils into plain ketchup squeeze bottles. It will change your life.
Once they're oiled, salt and pepper them generously - give them a taste to make sure they're seasoned before they go in the oven.
Righto, then pop these cuties into the hot oven and leave them in there for about fifteen minutes. Give them a rough shake about halfway through to make sure that they're toasted on all sides.
Voila! Gorgeous gorgeous croutons for gorgeous gorgeous Tomato Girls. These guys are crunchy, toasty, and well-seasoned. They are as good a hangover snack as they are a salad base.
Step Three: Make your salad dressing
In a suitable vessel, pop in your roughly diced large tomato or spare cherry tomatoes. Start by adding one tablespoon of vinegar, two tablespoons of soy sauce, and the juice of half a lime or a quarter of a lemon. Blitz it in a blender or with an immersion blender and taste, taste, taste. It's the only way to ensure that the dressing is to your liking. It should have a good balance of acid and salt.
Finally, mix in about a tablespoon of sesame oil in the end. Don't blend it in with the rest - we don't want to emulsify it, just let it bring a lovely, delicate, nutty richness to the dressing on its own.
The dressing will keep in the fridge for about a week. It will change in colour and texture, so don't panic about that. Just give it a shake before you pour it over your salad.
Step Four: Assemble your Tomato Girl Summer Salad
First, layer your croutons. Then, drizzle with your tomato dressing. Finally, layer in your sliced tomatoes and your bocconcini. Top with a final squeeze of lime juice and a sprinkle of zest. Throw in a pinch of flaky salt and basil leaves for a true homage to the Mediterranean.
Now, pour yourself and Aperol spritz and watch Jennifer Coolidge flee the gays. It's time for a Tomato Girl Summer.