Years ago when I was young and naive, a work colleague invited me to dinner.

EB was everything I thought I’d like to be. Tampa born and bred, she was the first native Floridian I ever met. She rented a killer pool house in a slightly dangerous neighborhood. She oozed ambition, wryness and sophistication beyond her 20-some years. My friend, Jude, and I couldn’t believe our luck when she asked us to come over.

I can’t remember the main course. But for dessert, EB had poured a bottle of vodka over a whole, split pineapple. We noshed on chunks of fruit until it was time to drive home.

What a drive.

“Why do I feel so weird?” I remember thinking. “I feel like I’m drunk.”

Of course I felt like I was drunk. I was drunk! (Par for the course with EB. As I got to know her, I learned she was just the kind of person to take glee in stealth inebriation.)  Thank the Lord I didn’t get pulled over, because no policeman would have believed my story:

“But Officer, all I had was the pineapple!”

Fruit and booze is a popular combination. It’s also a dangerous one. A friend tells the story of going to a wedding where her tea-totaling cousin’s daughters returned three and four times to the liquor-macerated fruit plate. (“Mother, the girls are drunk!” the cousin announced as she dragged her children from the reception.) I cringe to recall the party I catered that ended with platters of tequila- and Cointreau-soaked watermelon. I found the hostess slurping up the liquor after her guests were gone.

So. Lesson learned. I don’t serve booze-infused fruit anymore. It’s too easy for guests to over-indulge; too easy for them to miss the potent dose of alcohol.

But I do have a macerated appetizer that’s a regular part of my repertoire.

Peeled tomatoes awaiting their bath of vodka, wine vinegar and lemon zest.

Vodka-spiked tomatoes are lovely little spheres your guests will love. They sit in the barest mix of liquor and seasonings for just an hour, then come to the table drained and sprinkled with sea salt. They glisten on their platter like tiny red jewels with just a kick of spice and heat.

I like to serve these at cocktail parties or paired with smoked almonds and salt-and-pepper chips before dinner. I’m always careful to label them (no unsuspecting children popping them in their mouths). And I put the discarded marinade down the drain (no hostess slurping the leftovers).

The only time-consuming part of this recipe is peeling the tomatoes. Peeling may seem like an unnecessary step, but it helps the marinade infuse the tomatoes and makes for a tender, silky texture.

Besides. If peeling gets too tedious, you can always pour some vodka on a pineapple to help you pass the time.

Just don’t get in the car and drive.

Vodka-Spiked Tomatoes (The Gourmet Cookbook)

  • 3 pints cherry tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup vodka
  • 3 tablespoons white wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • Zest of 1 lemon

Bring a pot of water to a boil and salt it generously. Cut an X in the bottom of each tomato. Plunge the tomatoes in the boiling water for 15-20 seconds, until you see the skin beginning to shrivel. Transfer the tomatoes immediately to an ice-water bath. The skins should slip easily from the orbs.

Place the peeled tomatoes in a container and refrigerate until cold. (You can prep the tomatoes a day ahead.)

Mix together the vodka, vinegar, sugar and lemon zest. Add salt and pepper to taste. (You can do this a day ahead, too … just keep the marinade in the refrigerator until you’re ready to use it.)

An hour before serving, pour the marinade on the tomatoes and let them sit at room temperature, stirring occasionally. Right before serving, drain the marinade away, place the tomatoes in a serving dish and sprinkle lightly with sea salt.