Tomatoes and basil. An abundance of both this time of year, so it is time to make that simple classic, sliced tomatoes, fresh mozzarella slices, basil leaves torn to release their fragrant oils, and a drizzle of the best extra virgin olive oil – nothing more. Even though the salad is apparently popular in homes all over Italy, it has been claimed that the combination was first served on Capri, and hence the name, Insalata Caprese or the shorthand Caprese. I suspect that that account is apocryphal, but what is not apocryphal is the wonderful combination. Over the years, there has been a lot of messing around with the recipe – adding balsamic vinegar, using vinaigrette, etc., etc.
So why am I messing around even more? Because pesto and burrata are so delicious.
I found some beautiful tomatoes at the farmers market. They are dark purple and pear shaped. They are called Japanese black trifele tomatoes and just beg to be eaten. I have also been taken by burrata lately. It raises the game from fresh mozzarella, with creamy ricotta wrapped in a morsel of freshly-pulled mozzarella. Unfortunately, I was unable to find the hen’s egg size gems that I have seen before, and the only burrata I could find locally was at least ostrich-egg sized. So I had to modify my plans, but I think it turned out ok.
Japanese black trifele tomatoes
Tomatoes ready to be hollowed out
Insalata Caprese (Not Quite)
Insalata Caprese (Not Quite)
- 2 Japanese black trifele tomatoes
- pesto (see previous post)
- basil leaves
- extra virgin olive oil
- Slice tomatoes lengthwise and remove seeds and the flesh with a grapefruit spoon
- Place a tablespoon or so of fresh pesto in each tomato half
- Place a ball of burrata in each tomato half. If you cannot find small cheeses, cut a larger cheese in quarters.
- Top with a few fresh basil leaves and a drizzle of your best extra virgin olive oil
A couple of weeks ago, Sarah and Evan cooked at the James Beard House operated by the James Beard Foundation in New York City. We had the pleasure of watching them via a webcam in the kitchen.
Screen shot of the setup at James Beard House
Topping the gazpacho with strawberries, chicken skin, burrata, lemon verbena oil, and almond vinaigrette
Screen shot – ready to serve
Their dinner menu included a number of the dishes that have become favorites at Rich Table in San Francisco, including gazpacho with strawberries, chicken skin, and burrata. I have enjoyed that dish several times, but I am not a skilled enough cook to duplicate it, so I’ll just need to make do with gazpacho.
For me, the taste of traditional gazpacho is wonderful. But I don’t like the mouth-feel. It reminds me of baby food. I much prefer seeing the vegetables and bread intact so that it’s almost like eating a liquid salad in a bowl or cup.
I found just the right ingredients at the farmers market, including an Armenian cucumber, aka snake melon. It is not really a cucumber, but it has the crispness and crunch of the freshest of regular cucumbers and without having to worry about seeds. It also has the charm of being slender, long, and coiling around itself. It’s easy to see why it has the name of snake melon.
Vegetables for gazpacho
Easy to make, and refreshing in the fading days of summer.
Croutons on top, ready to serve
- juice of 1 lemon
- ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
- 2 ripe large heirloom tomatoes, blanched, peeled, seeded and coarsely chopped
- 1 large green bell pepper, seeded, membrane removed, and coarsely chopped
- 1 medium red onion, diced
- 1 small Armenian cucumber, diced
- 2 garlic cloves, peeled and mashed into paste
- ½ cup Italian parsley, finely chopped
- 4 cups chicken stock
- salt and pepper
- 1 large, I inch-thick slice of good-quality bakery bread, crust remove and cut into 1 inch cubes
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced thinly
- In a large bowl, whisk together the lemon juice and olive oil.
- Stir in the tomatoes, bell pepper, onion, cucumber, garlic paste, and parsley, making sure to coat the vegetables with the lemon/olive oil mixture.
- Stir in chicken stock. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper. Chill in the refrigerator for 2 hours.
- In the meantime, let the bread cubes dry at room temperature for 1 hour.
- In a small skillet, heat the remaining olive oil over medium heat. Add the sliced garlic and sauté for a few minutes until the garlic is lightly browned. Remove the garlic slices, and add the bread cubes, stirring frequently until lightly browned and crisp. Drain the croutons on several layers of paper towel. Cool, and set aside until ready to garnish the gazpacho.
- Serve the gazpacho in bowls or in large cups with a spoon. Garnish with croutons.
- Serves 4.