Caprese Salad and Beyond

Caprese Salad is quite simple with only 3-4 ingredients, however its simplicity offers a wide range of options which I would like to explore this month. The intent is to maximize your garden ingredients in a time-tested, mouth-pleasing way that matches the beauty of summer.

The basic salad ingredients are:
– Whole leaf or chiffonade (shredded) fresh Basil,
– Diced or whole fresh tomatoes,
– Diced fresh Mozzarella cheese.
– Balsamic Vinegar or glaze as dressing

Last year, I made a watermelon caprese salad for a meeting that only swapped out the tomato with watermelon. I found that the basil still worked well with the mild sweetness of the melon so let’s not stop there. Would you consider trying strawberry, honeydew, cantaloupe, zucchini squash, cucumber, or tomatillos? Whatever your garden blesses you with this year in abundance, you’ll always have this setup as a way to quickly toss together an enjoyable meal without using a hot stove. This works just as well in a Panini, baguette, or a tortilla, lettuce, or cabbage wrap as well.

If you’re looking to turn up the heat and enjoy a little gluten, you can turn this into the world famous Margarita pizza pie. When I worked at Fry’s Spring Station, their Margarita Pizza was the third most popular pie, after plain Neapolitan and pepperoni pizza. It is a Caprese style ensemble, normally with marinara sauce, thin sliced Roma tomatoes, sliced fresh mozzarella, and chiffonade (shredded) basil.  I’ve found that you can swap out the mozzarella for Greek yogurt. As the pie bakes, the yogurt gets solid, resembling a soft, mild cheese. Tomato sauce can actually be excluded from the pie if you wish. Instead, brush olive oil all over the pizza dough, then top the dough with the ingredients, and finish over top of it all with a light drizzle of balsamic vinegar. Other dressing options could include, Italian, any vinaigrette, pesto, or Green Goddess sauce (after baking).

Next to dressing selections, varying your tomatoes between sundried, heirloom, plum, Roma, or cherry can let you personalize the flavor more than any other changes you make. Again, the garden may be your trend setter here and you can easily be experimental with the herbs. I’d try some variety within the mint family other than basil, such as sage, lemon balm, rosemary, lavender, thyme, oregano, etc. This is certainly not to say you couldn’t use them raw in the salad but by baking them in an oil medium their flavors become mobilized. Two factors in the mobilization of flavor are the acidity of the tomato and the fat content of the cheese.

All this time I’ve been focusing on the Caprese as an appetizer, salad, or a meal, but it accompanies white meats rather well. Such as using the Caprese as stuffing to your baked chicken or turkey. Fill the inside of your chicken or turkey with the tomato and basil to add flavor and moisture while baking. Then serve the meat and stuffing while still hot, on top of a bed of diced mozzarella with balsamic dressing, allowing the cheese to melt beneath the meat. Similarly, serve a fish fillet or pork chop on top of a Caprese salad.

Finally, my favorite idea is to take your Caprese ingredients in the food processor and pulse them up just slightly. Then flay open a pork tenderloin (remember to remove any silver skin first), fill the center with the Caprese salad, and tie it closed with butcher’s twine. Brush the outside of the tenderloin with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Bake between 150-175 degrees Fahrenheit for forty minutes or until internal temp is 150 F. Rest the meat for 15 minutes before enjoying your stringy mozzarella stuffed pork. That’s just good clean fun right there.

These ingredients are quite healthy and complement many of our most popular health wise diets but moreover, let these ideas add some fun and enjoyment to the summer gardening season.

Stay as healthy as possible and never stop growing.

Tom Wilson

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