Insalata Pomodoro

This is our family's famous insalata pomodoro.  We've had this salad at almost every family gathering since I was born.  In fact, I can't remember any family gathering without this salad. True to form, my mom, dad and I made and served the family's insalata pomodoro at my brother's wedding reception in July 2011.  My brother's wife loved it so much that the tomato salad inspired her to publish a poem about it.  The salad is truly inspirational and I think this poem by Kathy Fagan says it all.


By Kathy Fagan
For the Romans, a barbarian
Was someone who wore trousers, had a beard, and ate butter.
Everyone else ate tomatoes.
From the Nahuatl tomatl, meaning swelling
Fruit it must have reminded the Aztecs of the viscera
They witnessed at rituals of human sacrifice.
Nahuatl also gave us the names for chocolate, coyote, chili, and omelet.
The tomato's Latin name, Lycopersicon esculentum, means
The edible wolf’s peach.
Like all nightshades, the tomato contains poisonous alkaloids
Grown strictly as an ornamental in England, a 1753 encyclopedia
Describes it as a fruit eaten only by “Spaniards,
Italians, and Jew families.” An alternative name, love apple,
Is a probable misreading of the Italian name pomodoro.
Tomato is also recorded to mean an attractive girl.
For our wedding, we combined mouthful-sized
chunks of heirloom tomato, roughly sliced Hungarian wax pepper, 
Ribbons of purple onions,
Torn Italian basil, extra virgin
Olive oil, coarse kosher sea salt, and freshly ground pepper,
To make the family’s Insalata Pomodoro,
A side dish for our guests. It was a summer in Ohio;
Tomatoes were just coming on.
Four hundred miles southeast in 1789, Secretary of State
Thomas Jefferson had introduced the tomato
To the U.S. as part of a national nutrition program. The fruit
Wasn’t commonly eaten, however, until decades later.
Our love salad was eaten by everyone in attendance. 
Both children and adults sopped up the juices with fresh-baked breads;
They tilted their bowls to their wet mouths.
But before they were sliced and eaten,
The tomatoes had looked as livid as hearts,
And bore names like the roses I’d arranged at each table:
Brandy Wine, Black Prince, Ananas Noir,
Abraham Lincoln, Paul Robeson, Julia Child,
Lemon Boy, Flamme Orange, Green Zebra,
Marvel Stripe, Genovese Jewel, Chocolate Amazon,
Charlie’s Mortgage Lifter, Buttery Azoychka, Gold-Shouldered Planet,
Purple Dog Creek, Bloody Butcher, Sweet Ocelot.

Fagan, K. (2014). Reception. In J. Cognard Black and M. Goldthwaite (Ed.) Books that Cook, The Making of a Literary Meal (2014) (pp. 242-243). New York University Press, New York and London 




  • 4 to 5 medium tomatoes (when tomatoes are not in season, I use Compari cut in quarters — 2 to 2 1/2 cups total)
  • 1 to 2 hot Hungarian wax peppers, thinly sliced and seeds removed
  • 1/2 small sweet onion (or red onion), thinly sliced
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons basil leaves (cut chiffonade)
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 to 1 teaspoon kosher or sea salt (or season to taste)
  • 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper



Step 1: Cut tomatoes into bite-size pieces; place in a medium bowl. 
Step 2:  Add the slices of Hungarian wax peppers and onions.
Step 3: Add salt and pepper to taste. When ready to serve, add the chiffonade of basil and olive oil.  Serve at room temperature in bowls with crusty Italian bread.


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