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What to do with all those tomatoes

August 12, 2010|By LYNNE ROSSETTO KASPER / Scripps Howard News Service

Dear Lynne: My girlfriend moved in with me and we're starting to have our friends over to eat. So now we have a bunch of people who don't know each other and things get awkward, as in conversations start and then slow down and then nothing. There are solutions, right? -- In Love in Albany

Dear In Love: The perpetual challenge -- you both really like your friends, but will they like each other? The first party my husband and I had when we moved in together was a total nightmare. The entire night I kept wishing I were a guest so I could leave. We didn't think ahead except for the food. We didn't figure out how to introduce people so they had a link to each other and something to talk about. For instance, getting together the three over-the-top political junkies.

Here are some strategies learned since then:

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o The Rule of Eight: Four people besides you two who don't hit if off with each other will lean on you both to make things work. Add another two people and you've got buffers. Of course, first think who's going to enjoy meeting up. Make part of introductions those little things you know about your mutual friends that could forge connections.

o If the group is eating together around a table, think out the dynamics of personal chemistry so you can work up a seating plan. This may sound like something your grandmother would do, but who rubs shoulders with whom sets up the whole tone of the party.

o Speaking of rubbing shoulders -- crowd the table a bit; it helps conversation. Forget centerpieces of any kind if you can't easily see over them. And have some low candles on the table and soft, warm lighting (no blue or green tones -- they make us edgy) ... nothing bright and overhead. Think a circle of soft light, like a campfire, to get people together. Besides, food looks great in soft, warm light.

o Separate couples (our line is you can't sit next to the person you sleep with, but that can get you into trouble). Pair up your girlfriend's friends with your friends. Have people with common interests next to each other. Seat generous engaging types who like to draw others out next to shy ones. Pair up outgoing, potential scene-stealers who love to talk. They'll work all evening at enthralling each other, while giving the table just the right measure of entertainment.

o Victorian manners had another solution. Etiquette dictated you talked to the person on your right through the first half of the meal and the one on your left during the second half. Pretty civilized. Then again, you could be cross-eyed with boredom if the host didn't think out a great seating plan. It's best to follow your instincts.

Dear Lynne: Collecting tomato recipes all year to use right now is my hobby, but I lost one of yours. Sliced tomatoes stacked with mozzarella and a sort of dressing with raisins in it. Am I dreaming, or did you do that? -- Annie in Hoboken

Dear Annie: Yep. In fact, some version turns up nearly every year. Here is it in a recent incarnation.

RIPE TOMATO STACK WITH PINE NUTS AND MOZZARELLA



o Serves 4 as a main dish; 6 to 8 as a starter.

Salad can be assembled 30 minutes ahead.

Dressing:

3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 large garlic clove, minced
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Generous pinch of red pepper flakes
1/3 medium red onion, cut into 1/4-inch dice
3 tablespoons currants
Salt to taste
2 tightly packed tablespoons fresh basil, torn
2/3 cup pine nuts, toasted

Salad:

6 medium-sized ripe tomatoes
1 pound fresh mozzarella packed in liquid, sliced 1/2-inch thick
About 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

In a small bowl, combine the lemon juice, garlic, black pepper, red pepper, onion, currants and salt to taste. Let them stand for 20 to 30 minutes. Just before assembling the dish, stir in the basil and all but 1/4 cup of the pine nuts.

One at a time, core the tomatoes. Check that each is stable if placed cored side down on a plate. (The idea behind this dish is that each tomato will be sliced horizontally and layered with cheese and seasonings so that it looks whole again on the plate. Keep each tomato's slices in order for easy assembly.)

Cut each tomato horizontally into 1/2-inch-thick slices. Then reassemble the tomatoes on a serving platter. Start with the bottom slices of each tomato. Season them with a little salt, then top each with a slice of cheese. Season the cheese with a teaspoon or so of the onion mixture. Continue alternating slices until they are used up.

To finish the dish, sprinkle the tomatoes with the reserved pine nuts, olive oil and any leftover onion mixture. Serve at room temperature.

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