Tag Archives: caprese salad

CAPRESE SALAD

You are probably wondering, “Who needs a recipe for caprese salad?” After all, it’s fresh tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, and fresh basil with a splash of extra virgin olive oil, and a little salt. But if you check out the internet, you’ll see that nearly every celebrity chef, along with all of the food websites have posted a recipe. Some call for roasted tomatoes, some call for lots of additional ingredients, some leave out one or another of the key ingredients, some with bizarre (IMHO) substitutions. Then there are the purists who insist that anything other than chunked tomatoes (I think slices are easier), “torn” pieces of homemade mozzarella (slices match the tomatoes), and torn –  not cut –  basil results in an inferior dish. (I readily admit that my taste buds have never been discriminating enough to taste the difference between torn or chopped greens of any sort. Also, there’s something to be said for whole leaves of fresh basil).

There are some requirements that I do agree with: The tomatoes should be as fresh as possible; just picked from the garden may be the best and those from the farmers’ market are certainly acceptable. Supermarket tomatoes are a distant third. The mozzarella should be as fresh as possible. If it is refrigerated, it will shrink and firm up a bit, but is certainly ok, especially if it comes in liquid. Mozzarella that comes in plastic-wrapped slabs from the grocery store is in the same category as supermarket tomatoes. As to the basil, the fresher the better, and for this dish I prefer ordinary sweet basil to any of the other varieties. The olive oil should be the very best you have. As to the salt, you can use it straight out of the shaker, but kosher salt or a good finishing salt make it better. Freshly ground black pepper is ok, too.

That’s it. An unspoken truth is that NOW is probably the only season to make caprese salad, while the tomatoes and basil are fresh from the garden. As to the mozzarella, I got a nice round lump at the Cheesemongers of Santa Fe. The label said that it was from Rhode Island, but it was fresh enough to satisfy my unsophisticated  palate. With all of that, I feel obliged to offer a recipe for a wonderful dish that needs no recipe.

Caprese salad

Caprese salad

RECIPE

Caprese Salad

Ingredients

  • 1 or 2 large, ripe tomatoes
  • ½ to 1 pound fresh mozzarella
  • fresh basil leaves
  • extra virgin olive oil (the best you have)
  • salt
  • freshly ground black pepper (optional)

Method

  1. Slice the tomatoes and the mozzarella.
  2. Arrange the tomato slices, mozzarella slices and basil leaves in layers on salad plates. Sprinkle generously with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and optional ground pepper. Serve immediately.
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CRABMEAT TECHE

Bayou Teche is one of the most important waterways in Louisiana. It is an ancient riverbed of the Mississippi River before it changed its flow several thousand years ago. Bayou Teche runs over a hundred miles before it empties into the Atchafalaya River, another former route of the Mississippi. The bayou served as the watery route of entry for the Acadians from Canada during their forced migration into Louisiana. The bayou flows through the heart of Cajun country, including some of its most famous towns and cities. Breaux Bridge is well-known for its zydeco, dance halls, and crawfish. St. Martinville is quaint and home to great Cajun food. New Iberia is close by Avery Island, the home of the famous Tabasco Sauce.  So, with a name like “Crabmeat Teche,” this dish must be pure Cajun.

The original recipe comes from the classic, “River Road Recipes” first published by the Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Junior League in 1959 and self-described as “The Textbook of Louisiana Cuisine”. Many of the recipes reflect the times, calling for canned mushroom soup, flavored gelatin, and lots of convenience foods. At the same time the book is a trove of honest-to-goodness Louisiana recipes, and for that reason you can usually find a copy of the cookbook in most Louisiana homes you visit.

The recipe for Crabmeat Teche was contributed  by Mrs. Roy Dabadie. I guess she lived in Baton Rouge at the time, but with a name like that, I shouldn’t be surprised if she originally hailed from someplace along the Bayou Teche. The  recipe used some of the convenience foods of the time, so I have made some small revisions. Nonetheless crabmeat Teche is still a 1950s casserole, but it tastes a lot better than tuna noodle bake.

Baked crabmeat Teche casserole

You’ll need a fresh vegetable to complement the casserole. I made a simple salad to go with it: sliced seasonal tomatoes, sprinkled with chopped fresh basil, coarsely-grated mozzarella cheese and your favorite vinaigrette.  It seemed to be an ideal foil for the rich casserole.

Caprese salad

RECIPE

Crabmeat Teche

Ingredients

  • 1 large bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 3 ribs celery, chopped
  • 8 ounces crimini mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 4 tablespoons bacon drippings
  • 4 slices very dry toast (dry enough to crumble easily)
  • 3 cups fish stock or chicken stock, divided
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • ½ teaspoon celery salt
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano, pulverized between your hands
  • Louisiana hot sauce, to taste
  • ¾ cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 pound can crabmeat, picked over for shells
  • ¾ cup cracker crumbs
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • paprika

Crabmeat Teche

Method

  • In a medium skillet over medium-high heat, sauté pepper, onions, celery, mushrooms, and garlic in bacon drippings until tender, about 10 minutes.
  • In a small bowl, crumble the dry toast in 1½ cups of fish stock. When the stock is completely absorbed and the toast crumbs have softened, add them to the skillet along with Worcestershire sauce, salt, pepper, celery salt, and oregano. Continue to simmer, stirring frequently until well combined. Adjust flavoring with hot sauce to taste.
  • Add the parsley and remaining 1½ cups of fish stock, stirring until well combined.
  • Add crabmeat, and mix thoroughly. Then pour the mixture into a well-buttered casserole.
  • Sprinkle the  top with cracker crumbs, dot with butter, and sprinkle with paprika.
  • Bake  for 20-30 minutes at 350° in the middle of a pre-heated oven. IF casserole is made ahead and refrigerated, increase baking time to 45-60 minutes.

Serving of crabmeate Teche with caprese salad

Serves 4 to 8, depending upon serving size

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FAMILY CELEBRATION: CAROL’S SHRIMP AND MUSHROOMS WITH COUSCOUS

Our family birthday celebration was a multi-day affair with the culmination being dinner for all of the adults at Rich Table. In the meantime we had other meals together, and our other daughter, Carol, had volunteered to cook for children and adults on the night before the party.

Talk about bravery! Have you ever tried to cook for seven adults and five kids, all of whom have their own food hang-ups – “The sausage touched my scrambled egg, and I can taste the sausage!” “I don’t like pasta.” “The only thing I like is pasta.”

In spite of similar premonitions, Carol took on the challenge and prepared a wonderful meal that everyone enjoyed. There was nothing left.

Shortly before dinner time, Carol went shopping at the local farmers market and a grocery store. She brought home some beautiful heirloom tomatoes, fresh basil, home-made mozzarella in little balls, raw shrimp, and fresh mushrooms.

The first course was a sort of caprese salad made from the variously sized tomatoes, mozzarella balls, fresh basil, balsamic vinegar and olive oil.

For the main meal, Carol cleaned and shelled the shrimp with a little help, cleaned and sliced the mushrooms, and began to cook. I forgot to mention she melted a half pound of butter. Then she guessed at the amount of couscous, erring on the high side since both pasta-lovers and pasta-haters averred to liking couscous. She served this with a side dish of broccoli roasted in butter, lemon, and garlic.

Things were cooked up in a flash, and before anyone could even think of complaining about being hungry, the meal was on the table.

There was enough food for seconds, and soon dinner was over, plates were clear, and the serving bowls were empty.

That’s what I call success.

RECIPES

Heirloom tomato caprese salad

Ingredients

  • 2 pounds ripe heirloom tomatoes, various sizes
  • 2 packages (12 ounces each) marinate small mozzarella balls
  • 1 bunch fresh basil
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste

Method

  • Wash and cut the tomatoes into large chunks. Leave cherry tomatoes whole.
  • Combine the prepared tomatoes and mozzarella balls
  • Chop the basil leaves coarsely and add to the mixture
  • Dress with balsamic vinegar and olive oil, adjust seasoning with salt and pepper, and serve

Shrimp and mushrooms with couscous

Ingredients

  • 2 pounds crimini or white button mushrooms
  • 3 pounds unshelled raw shrimp
  • ½ pound butter
  • 3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
  • 4 branches fresh rosemary
  • 2 lemons, juiced
  • salt and pepper
  • 2 packages couscous

Method

  • Clean and slice the mushrooms. Set aside.
  • Peel and clean the shrimp. Set aside.
  • In an oven pre-heated to 400°, melt the butter in a large casserole.
  • Add the minced garlic and  rosemary.
  • Add the mushrooms to the melted butter. Bake, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms are cooked through, about 10 minutes.
  • Add the shrimp to the mushrooms and bake, continuing to stir occasionally until the shrimp are pink and have lost their translucency, about 5 minutes.
  • Remove the rosemary, stir in the fresh lemon juice, and correct seasoning with salt and pepper.
  • In the meantime, prepare the couscous according to directions on the box.
  • Serve as a generous helping of couscous topped with the shrimp and mushroom mixture.
  • Serves 12

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