Thursday, July 5, 2012

The Dog Days are Over

A treat we enjoyed on the 4th of July with my family. Insalata Caprese, or Caprese Salad with Crostini.

If you live anywhere in the midwest, or west, or east, err.... if you are alive right now, you are experiencing the dog days of summer. Days are blazing hot, nights are sultry, and dinnertime can be scary. I mean, who in their right mind wants to turn on an oven, stand over the stove, or even eat hot food for that matter. Not this ninja, I will tell you that much! (And though I'm pretty sure I've posted something similar to this before [I'm too hot to look back and see], it warrants repeating.) 

So, might I suggest a simply delicious, light, and beautiful dinner. Caprese Salad with Crostini. That is the fancy name for which you will pay $18 an appetizer in a restaurant. But you can do is easily, inexpensively, and probably even more deliciously at home. Ready for an added bonus? It is so beautiful, you can impress friends and neighbors with your culinary awesomeness. And if you have a garden, the awesomeness is off the charts!

Caprese Salad with Crostini

  • a baguette or loaf of yummy crusty bread sliced into pieces 1/2-1 inch thick
  • ripe, firm, room temperature tomatoes, sliced (NEVER refrigerate tomatoes!!! PLEASE) romas are great if store bought, home grown garden of any variety are best
  • fresh mozzarella cheese (in a log pre-sliced or solid)
  • extra virgin olive oil (the EXTRA virgin is important)
  • fresh basil leaves
  • fresh cracked pepper
  • sea salt or kosher salt
  • balsamic vinegar
  • optional: dried thyme, garlic salt, capers, thinly sliced cured meats

Lay sliced bread flat on baking sheet (covered with foil for easier clean up) and drizzle with oil. If desired, sprinkle lightly with a bit of dried thyme and garlic salt. Bake until crisp at 350 degrees (about 8 minutes). The term "crostini" refers to crisp pieces of bread in Italian. For hot weather.... grill the bread outside~ either on foil or directly onto the grate. Keep the heat low-med to avoid charring.

While the crostini toasts, wash tomatoes and slice into 1/4- 1/2 inch slices. Slice fresh mozzarella. You really cannot substitute for this. It really needs to be FRESH mozzarella... the soft and creamy stuff. You can make it yourself, or buy it in a log shaped package. You want to aim to have your cheese and tomato slices the same thickness. 

Arrange tomato, mozzarella, and basil on a plate. Drizzle with olive oil, balsamic, season with salt and pepper. If you have them or want to use them, add the capers and slices of cured meat (salami, prosciutto, capicola). Serve on platter alongside a bowl of crostini. When digging in, I like to assemble it with the tomato on the bread, then basil, then cheese on top. That way the bread absorbs any juices from the tomato and makes it less messy. You could also certainly ditch the bread to cut the carbs and eat it truly as a salad. Which I LOVE. But, if you want this to satisfy you as a meal, the bread sure helps. And man, is it good! The only thing missing from this is a very chilled glass of a crisp pinot grigio or sauvignon blanc wine. Cheers!

Buon appetito... and happy summer!