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Simple is Best: Caprese Salad

One of my favorite summer salads is Caprese Salad. It sounds fancier than it is. All you need to make it: fresh ripe tomatoes, fresh basil, fresh mozzarella, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and a bit of salt and pepper.

Some people marinate the tomatoes and cheese, but past experience has taught me that marinating it can make even the freshest tomatoes turn a bit mushy.

I just slice a tomato and layer it with slices of fresh mozzarella and chopped basil, then drizzle with a little olive oil, some balsamic vinegar, then sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste.

This salad was made with fresh basil and a delicious Black Japanese Trifele Heirloom Tomato picked fresh from my tiny kitchen garden.

Admittedly, the caprese salad pictured here has a bit more cheese than tomato, but this was the last of the fresh mozzarella, so…why not?

For the super lazy cooks among us, this non-recipe recipe can be made even easier by using pre-sliced fresh mozzarella and not chopping the basil.

I’ve also seen caprese kabobs where cherry tomatoes and small balls of fresh mozzarella are skewered along with fresh basil leaves, then drizzled in olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

Honestly, with these ingredients, it’s impossible to go wrong.

What’s your favorite summer salad?

 

 

 

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Simple Roasted Tomatoes

Pretty much every grocery store has a reduced-for-quick-sale section. Ever wonder what to do with large quantities of over-ripe produce like these tomatoes I bought for under three dollars?

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Whenever I see decent reduced-price tomatoes, I feel compelled to try to replicate my friend Meetal’s ridiculously delicious roasted tomatoes. I’ve never quite matched her results, but I keep trying.

The first time I tasted them was a couple years ago when Meetal, our sisters, and I went to a big flea market and Meetal volunteered to bring lunch. She sliced a loaf of ciabatta bread into two layers, pulled out some of the bread-y bits to make more space for filling and loaded it up with roasted tomatoes, arugula, and fresh mozzarella. She cut the overflowing loaf into four sections and individually wrapped them for us to enjoy while wandering through the flea market.

I’m not sure if it was our reaction to how delicious the sandwiches were, or just how good they looked, but a couple passersby asked where we bought them. Boy, were they disappointed to found out Meetal made the sandwiches!

Separately, each ingredient was good. Combined, they were even better. But the richness of the roasted tomatoes was by far the star ingredient.

That day, Meetal told me how she slow roasts the tomatoes and finishes them off by adding fresh basil and a dash of balsamic vinegar.

I can never remember the specifics of her recipe, so if I’m wrong I hope she’ll chime in and correct me. (Then again, she might not want any of us knowing her secret for perfect roasted tomatoes.) The truth is, as long as you slow roast the tomatoes it’s hard to go wrong.

I started by washing the tomatoes and removing any bad spots. Then I splashed some olive oil in the bottom of two shallow baking pans. I cut the tomatoes into large chunks and tossed in a few whole, peeled, cloves of garlic and a few chunks of onion. (One time I put in a little red bell pepper, too, which lent a nice hint of sweetness.)

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Although I couldn’t remember the temperature Meetal uses, I knew it was low. So I set the oven at 300F degrees.

The hard part comes next. Waiting. Because these are slow roasted, expect to wait at least five or six hours before it even starts to look like this:

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It’s more than worth the wait, though, since the flavor intensifies as the moisture evaporates and the ingredients caramelize.

At this point, you can use a fork to peel off and pick out tomato skins if you like. I picked some of the larger skins out then used a potato masher to work the mixture into a chunky sauce.

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Next I added some basil (sadly it was dried, not fresh), a splash or two of balsamic vinegar and salt and pepper to taste.

If you don’t like chunky sauce, let it cool a bit and pop it into a food processor or use an immersion blender to achieve the consistency you prefer.

While I didn’t have ciabatta bread, fresh mozzarella, or arugula on hand, I had some gnocchi in the freezer so I made this:

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There’s still a lot of roasted tomatoes leftover, so I might yet make the sandwiches. You can uses this sauce with almost any pasta or just dip some nice rustic bread in and enjoy. It would probably make a great pizza sauce, too.

Have you ever bought bulk quantities of over-ripe produce? What did you make with it?

 

 

What’s My Garden Growing: Gajo De Melon

Last week I showed you the gorgeous Violet Jasper tomatoes growing in a garden pot out back. This week I have a couple of ripe Gajo de Melon heirloom tomatoes freshly picked from a plant just 20 feet away from the Violet Jaspers.

The Gajo de Melon plant really didn’t grow much. It had some yellow leaves early on so I removed those. I always water my tomatoes from the bottom, but this is the only tomato plant I have that isn’t at least partially protected by an overhang – maybe it isn’t doing as well as the others because its leaves get too wet when it rains. The poor plant looks half dead but it keeps blossoming and has already produced several tiny fruits.

I was expecting cherry tomato sized fruits, but this is what I got:

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Yep. That’s a quarter next to the tiny beauties.

Despite the tiny size, they’re perfectly formed tomatoes that offer an intense, concentrated, slightly tart tomato flavor. They’d pair really well with bitter greens.

Now if you want to see a real garden bounty, Bonnie from Arizona shared these photos from her dad’s garden.

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Bonnie’s dad in his Arizona garden…

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…and some of his garden’s bounty.

Now that’s a real home garden! Is everyone else as envious as I am about that yield?

Volunteer Tomatoes

While weeding my little produce patches earlier this summer I spotted what looked liked tomato leaves popping up near where last summer’s cherry tomato plant grew. I decided to leave it alone and see what happened.

Soon it grew taller and sprouted more leaves. A couple weeks ago it began to blossom. The other day I spotted the first of several tiny green cherry tomatoes beginning to form.

See the first tiny tomato from my volunteer tomato plant?

It’s already Labor Day, so who knows if any of these volunteers will ripen before the first hard frost, but that really doesn’t matter since I can always add them to my annual batch of homemade green tomato salsa!

Happy Labor Day, everyone! (And yes, I’ll be laboring a bit today….no such thing as a paid holiday when you’re a freelancer.)

Pick A Peck of Peppers

Okay, so it’s not exactly a peck of peppers, but my one little jalapeno plant has been producing like crazy. I’ve already picked five peppers, and look how many are ready, or almost ready to pick.

I can spot the peppers amid the leaves. Can you?

(Immediately after taking the photo, I picked four more peppers.)

The first cucumber is ready for picking, and a smaller one is growing a bit higher on the vine.

Cuke #1 a few days before harvest.

The cucumber plant is loaded with blossoms, but so far just two cukes. They grow quickly, so I’m hoping for more.

I’ve already mentioned how well the tomato plants are doing – I’ve already lost track of how many tomatoes I’ve picked, and those plants are still loaded. The only plant I’m concerned about is the red pepper plant.

Pretty leaves, but where are the blossoms?

It’s beautiful, but I haven’t seen a single blossom. Any idea why it’s not blooming? Last year’s red pepper plant did so well that it wasn’t until a month or two ago that I finally finished up the leftover red peppers I chopped and froze last fall.

How are your gardens growing? Which crops are doing best for you this year?

First Tomatoes of the Season

Try to ignore the weeds and half-dead hosta behind my Al Kuffa tomato plant. Zero in instead on the trio of ripe red tomatoes. They were the first of the season, and they were delicious.

I’ve since harvested a few more tomatoes from the same plant which is thriving in a large pot. The other two tomato plants are in my little garden wedges on either side of the driveway. Today I picked the first ripe tomato from the smallest plant. The third plant  is the largest, loaded with the most fruit, but none of it is ripe yet because is doesn’t get quite as much sun as the others do.

I don’t have photos to prove it, but my jalapeno plant has tons of little peppers, and yesterday I spotted the first tiny cucumbers on my potted cucumber vine. I swear they weren’t there the day before.

The only plant I’m concerned with is my red pepper plant. It’s got a strong stem and beautiful leaves, but I’ve yet to see a single blossom. Anyone know what might be wrong with it?

How are your crops doing?

Why buy produce when you can grow your own?

Moments ago I harvested the first of the mixed baby lettuces and spinach that I sowed back in April. Here it is washed, drained and ready to go – just like the bagged greens at the grocery store, only a lot less expensive:

Okay, so as I was snipping the spinach, for a moment I worried I’d cut the leaves off my radishes by mistake. I didn’t. (Hey, I never claimed to be a gardener!)

Each summer I try to grow a few more things than the year before, but it’s not always easy with a giant black walnut tree in the yard. The shade isn’t the real problem. Juglone is. It’s a toxin produced by black walnut trees that effects a lot of plants. That’s why I’ve relegated my “crops” to containers and two small wedges of soil that get plenty of sun and are away from the black walnut’s canopy.

Last year I mentioned my dilemma to a neighbor who is a prolific gardener. You know, the type who starts his own plants from seed. The other day he called and said he had a tomato variety called Al Kuffa, that does very well in containers. By noon he’d dropped off three seedlings for me.

What a lovely gift!

Stay tuned to see how well the tomatoes do. I might plant one in one of the wedges and two in pots. Or vice versa. I’ll figure that out over the weekend. After that I’ll just have to wait for them to grow and ripen.

What’s your garden growing this year?

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