When I was a little girl in South Philly my grandmother would make sun dried tomatoes.
We’d drive to New Jersey and buy big wooden barrels full of hot from the sun, plump red tomatoes, lugging them home in the trunk of the car.
Grandmom would slice them all up, gather them in sheets and carry the sheet/tomato bundles up to the roof on a ladder where she spread them out to dry in the sun.
The back yards were so small in those row house neighborhoods they didn’t get any sun—but the roofs—well, they had lots of sun.
My grandfather would use the empty barrels to ferment fresh pears for pear wine.
“Don’ta toucha the pears,” Grandpop said once when he caught me peering down into one of the barrels, gesturing with both his crooked hands and telling me in Italian, “Viene qui.”
I didn’t know a lot of Italian but I knew he meant, “Come with me.”
I followed him up the dark cellar stairs to the kitchen where he sat me down on his lap. From inside his pocket he pulled a small knife and, slowly cutting small slices from the pear that he had taken from the bowl on the kitchen table, ever-so-carefully fed pear bits to me from the tip of the knife.
I’ve never forgotten the look of my grandfather’s gnarled, brick-layer hands, and his breath warm as he murmured to me in Italian to be careful of the sharp knife.
Upstairs on the roof, I could hear my grandmother clambering around and watched as she made her careful way back down the ladder.
In my child’s mind, I pictured the rows upon rows of sun dried tomatoes glistening like rubies in their jars of olive oil that my grandmother would soon be making.
In the meantime, she would keep out some tomatoes for us to have fresh in a salad. Here is her recipe as handed down to me by my mother.
My Mother’s Italian Salad Dressing
I didn’t learn how to make this dressing by measuring anything—I learned it by making it “by the eye” which is how a lot of Italians cook. That means, I can’t give you a cup of this or a cup of that. I can only give you approximates. Approximates however, will work just fine, as this dressing is robust enough to withstand lots and lots of tweaks.
Pour all of the following ingredients in a jar and shake well:
About 2 cups of olive oil
About 1/2 cup balsamic vinegar (If you use red wine vinegar add a dash of sugar)
About 1 Tablespoon each dried oregano and dried basil
2-3 cloves of fresh garlic
Salt and red pepper to taste
Note: Depending on how many salads you prepare, this dressing will last up to two weeks on the kitchen counter. If you put it in the fridge the olive oil hardens and you have to wait to use it so I don’t put it in the fridge. I have lately however, put it in a high speed blender (such as a Nutri-Bullet), which emulsifies it nicely, allowing me to make larger batches and leave them in the fridge.
This is a pretty basic salad dressing but it’s the one I grew up with. Once you add it to your kitchen, bottled Italian dressing will never taste the same. It also lends itself well to creativity such as an addition of powdered mustard, or honey, or (my personal favorite) raspberry jam. The options are endless.
Author: Carmelene Siani
Editor: Catherine Monkman; Travis May
Image: Andrew Deacon/Flickr