February 22, 2011

A Caprese for the Long Winter

The caprese is a simple yet delicious favorite, and a perfect example of how excellent ingredients can really substitute for any real cooking ability. With a fresh, luscious tomato, sweet, crisp basil, creamy mozzarella, and smooth, flavorful olive oil, not much else is needed. That said, without those quality ingredients, the caprese can be boring, mealy, one-dimensional, and just plain bad. That's why you don't see it served up all too often during the winter, because it's hard to get those quality basil leaves and tomatoes when the ground is frozen.

Me and my reflection both miss the summer. 
That's where this winter caprese comes in. It takes all the basic ingredients of the dish and mixes them up a bit to make up for the likely poorer quality of the ingredients you'd have on hand. The result is (in our opinion) almost better than the original, and will help you get through the cold winner with the flavors of warmer weather on your tongue.

Read on to learn how to make this amazing salad!

Making the Dish

To start, you should prepare your tomatoes. Look for plum tomatoes with the most color you can find. Since it's the dead of winter, they won't be perfect, but do what you can. Since these won't be nature's best work, we're going to prepare them by oven drying them. To do this, preheat your oven to 475. Then, slice them in half lengthwise and then take out the seeds with your fingers.

Sliced tomatoes, coated with olive oil and salt. 
Place all your sliced and de-seeded tomatoes into a bowl and add tablespoon of olive oil and a teaspoon of salt. Toss everything together so the tomatoes are slightly covered, and let sit for a few minutes to draw the juices out. Then, place them on a baking sheet, letting as much juice drip off as possible before putting it down. Put the sheet of tomatoes in the oven and let bake for 30 - 40 minutes. 

The tomatoes with their baking completed. Caramelized and delicious. 

 After they've finished baking, remove them and let the oven cool down to 350. Let the tomatoes cool down a bit as well. Now, the fun begins. Using your fingers, or a fork, or a combination of the both, remove the skins from each tomato. It shoudl already be cracked in some places so just pull it away where you have the opportunity, without removing too much of the flesh. If they're not coming off easily, let cool for a little longer and try again.

The don't call come off this easily, but when they do, it feels awesome. 
Once you've removed all the skins, blot off the baking sheet with a paper towel to remove any excess juice still on the sheet. Add the de-skinned tomatoes back to the oven and let cook at the 350 for about an hour. 

Basil, ready to be blended in our "food processor."

While the tomatoes are oven drying, prepare the basil. Again, this basil won't be as sweet or fresh as you'd get in the summer so we're going to mix it up by turning it into a pesto. To do this, take two cups of basil leaves, and a tablespoon of toasted walnuts. Put them in a food processor with a little olive oil and a teaspoon of salt and blend until smooth. Add about a one half to one full cup of olive oil as it is blending to get it to your desired consistency. Give it a taste and see how you like it. Add salt or more basil to taste if necessary. 

Completed pesto. Nutty and yummy. 
Finally, create the finishing touch for the tomatoes, the agrodolce. This is a sweet & sour mixture that acts a lot like a simple syrup and will be added to your tomatoes to really amp up their flavor. Add equal parts sugar and red wine vinegar to a sauce pan and bring to a boil. Stir until the sugar is dissolved, and then allow to cool.

Equal parts sugar and red wine vinegar - a strange but wonderful combination. 
It will smell very vinegary when you're preparing it, and you may question how this could ever taste good, but give it a taste and you'll be a believer. Prepare about 1/2 cup for this recipe. 

Drizzling the agrodolce into the tomatoes. 
Remove the tomatoes from the oven and let cool. Drop the in a bowl and add your agrodolce. Stir together and allow to rest in the fridge for a while so the flavors can incorporate. 

What was once mealy and flavorless is now rich and delicious. 
Take out your fresh mozzarella (you can still get fresh mozzarella in the winter, fortunately). For presentation's sake on this recipe, use small balls of it if you can find it.

Combining the pesto with the mozzarella. 
Mix the balls of mozzarella with your pesto and get them covered nicely. Add them to the plate and accompany with your tomatoes, and serve. 

Nicely coated mozzarella balls with pesto and walnuts.  

The Result

One bite of this and you'll be a fan, we're sure of it. The sweet yet tart tomatoes combining with the cool, creamy mozarella and earthy basil petso makes for an amazing flavor combination. You'll be amazed of how much complexity can exist in such an easy to prepare dish. So chow down and let your taste buds get a hint of the summer flavors.

Winter Caprese Ingredients
Serves 4

6-8 plum tomatoes, sliced lengthwise, cored and de-seeded
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
2 cups basil
1 tablespoon toasted walnuts
1.5 cups olive oil
salt to taste

1 comment:

  1. I wish all "salads" were this ridiculously good. WANT!


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