This Recipe for Italian Tomato Salad is one of the best side dishes for almost any summer meal. It only requires tomatoes, red onion, salt and olive oil, but there are a couple other ingredients you can add. There is no vinegar in this Tomato Salad. Instead, salt draws out the tomato juices through the process of osmosis. It's these juices that make the dressing for the salad.
The Italian Tomato Salad's beauty lies in its simplicity. It uses delicious summer tomatoes as the star of the dish. The other ingredients compliment the tomatoes but do not distract from them.
It's best spooned over a plate of simply grilled skirt steak or lemon chicken. But I also love to serve it at summer cookouts alongside other delicious sides like Ditalini Pasta Salad.
How to make Italian Tomato Salad
I learned to make Italian-Style Tomato Salad at a very young age by watching my grandma make it. It's so easy and yields amazing results.
Italian Tomato Salad calls for just 4 must-have ingredients:
- Tomatoes (use good, peak summer tomatoes or Campari tomatoes)
- Red onion
- Olive oil
- I almost always add fresh basil and dry oregano too, but these are extra. Though these herbs enhance the tomatoes' flavor, you can still make a delicious tomato salad without them.
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Step 1: Place largely diced or wedged tomatoes in a bowl with sliced red onion.
Step 2: Add the salt and toss to combine. Set aside for 10 minutes until a small pool of tomato juice forms at the bottom of the bowl.
Step 3: Add the olive oil, basil, oregano (if using) and toss to combine.
Step 4 (OPTIONAL): Stir in a handful of cooked farro, orzo, quinoa, or toasted cubes of bread to add something starchy and filling to the tomato salad.
- Don't use vinegar. Vinegar has its place in some tomato salads, but I implore you to just enjoy the simplicity of delicious tomatoes soaking in their own juices.
- Use good tomatoes. Since tomatoes are the star of the dish, they can really make or break the recipe. If making this Italian tomato salad outside of summer, use Campari Tomatoes, which are naturally sweeter and juicier than most other tomatoes, confirmed by per Specialtyproduce.com
- Use good olive oil too. Though you don't need a lot of it, good olive oil adds a nice subtle complex flavor to the tomatoes. And bad olive oil... sorry Bertolli... can make them taste bitter.
- I sometimes add a starch to soak up some of the delicious juices. For instance, farro (as seen in photo), quinoa, or croutons are all excellent for this task but totally optional. It creates something similar to Panzanella.
- Italian Tomato and Cucumber Salad: Many Italians like to add cucumber to their tomato salad. Just make sure you still let the tomatoes shine... Only add about ½ of a large cucumber or 1 small Persian cucumber.
- Spicy: Add a pinch of red pepper flakes or a teaspoon of diced Calabrian chili peppers for a kick.
What Tomatoes to Use
Local tomatoes, picked at their peak and sold immediately are always the most flavorful. (as reported by Carrie Havranek for Serious Eats) These fully vine-ripened tomatoes are absolutely the best option for making Italian Tomato Salad. Go for beefsteak or heirloom tomatoes if you can. In addition to their sweetness, they're also soft and juicy.
In the off season Campari tomatoes are my go-to because they are usually sweet, even in January. The juicier and sweeter the tomato, the better. It is the main ingredient, after all!
The Serious Eats article above is really excellent and worth reading. Carrie notes that smaller tomatoes are typically sweeter. Because they don't bruise as easily, farmers allow them to mature longer on the vine. This allows them to reach peak sweetness and still not bruise during transit.
However** cherry and grape tomatoes would be too small for this recipe specifically. They have a higher ratio of surface area (skin) to flesh, making the tomato salad chewier than necessary. So stick to ripe beefsteak and heirlooms!
BEST Italian Tomato Salad Recipe:Print
Pasta al Pomodoro or "tomato pasta" is a simple, classic Italian pasta dish that everyone should know how to make.
- 1 pound of penne pasta (or your favorite pasta shape)
- 1 28-oz can of whole tomatoes
- 2 tablespoons of tomato paste
- 4 cloves of garlic, 3 sliced and 1 grated
- 2 dried chiles de arbol, seeds removed
- 2 tablespoons of olive oil
- 2 tablespoons of butter
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 6 basil leaves, sliced
- Heat a sauté pan with olive oil and sauté the sliced garlic and chiles de arbol for 1-2 minutes. Don't let the garlic burn as burnt garlic has an unpleasant flavor that will permeate into the sauce. As soon as it starts to turn golden, add the tomato paste and sauté 1-2 minutes longer until the tomato paste turns deep red and starts to stick to the pan.
- Add the can of tomatoes, and break each tomato in half with a spatula. Bring the sauce and halved tomatoes to a boil, cover (partially vented) and reduce to simmer for a total of 35 minutes. After the first 10 minutes, when the tomatoes have softened significantly, use a potato masher to fully break them up. When the sauce has just 5 minutes left, stir in the salt, butter, and a small clove of freshly grated garlic to the sauce.
- Meanwhile, bring a pot of water to a boil and salt it with enough salt to taste just a little salty, like soup. About 8 minutes before the sauce is done cooking, add your pasta.
- When the sauce and pasta are done cooking (pasta should be al dente), transfer the cooked pasta to the sauce along with about ½ cup of pasta water. Stir for about 1 minute until the sauce thickens a little and clings to the pasta.
- Serve and top with fresh basil.
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