• Caprese Salad

    Caprese Salad. Sometimes simple is best.

    We feel a bit sheepish even posting this recipe, as the Caprese is as simple as it gets (and there are hundreds of recipes online). But we have our own tomatoes and basil, and a good source of local mozzarella, so this is what we are eating. Tomatoes/mozzarella/basil might be our favorite flavor combination, perhaps only matched by potatoes/fat/salt and butter/sugar/flour 😉 . We will eat this dish almost daily until the tomatoes run out…so might as well take some photos and write a post

    Just a few ingredients. But a variety of tomatoes and vinegars adds extra pop.

    And while the Caprese salad is a very common recipe, there are a few ways to make the most of the dish. Firstly, you need fresh ingredients. Ripe tomatoes and fresh basil are key, as is good quality mozzarella. If you have a good local producer of mozzarella, try their cheese. If not, ask a good cheesemonger for a recommendation, as there are good nationally distributed mozzarella. Secondly, adding salt, pepper, olive oil and vinegar will add flavor and depth to the dish- without distracting from the core ingredients. Using two vinegars also brightens the flavor, we like sherry and balsamic vinegars, just not too much. Third, using a variety of tasty, ripe tomatoes provides more flavors and textures- and it looks good too (although most Caprese salads look good). UPDATE: And finally, as Stefan from Stefan’s Gourmet Blog (one of our faves) points out in the comments below, letting the cheese come to room temperature is a big help- it improves both the flavor and texture.

    We like the extra color on the plate.

    Arrange the tomatoes and season.

    We also suggest a few techniques to make the most of the salad. We season each layer as we build the salad, this sounds fussy, but you want salt and pepper on each tomato slice. And a chiffonade of basil combined with whole leaves provides the most basil aroma, which is hard to beat. A chiffonade is simply thin strips of herbs or leafy vegetables. To make a chiffonade, roll some basil leaves into a cylinder and then thinly slice crosswise into thin strips. The slicing will release more of that awesome basil perfume, but also discolors the basil somewhat, so it is best to make the chiffonade just before assembling and serving the dish.

    Add the basil.

    Add the cheese, oil and vinegar. Season and arrange the whole basil leaves. Serve.

    Served with seared skirt steak, a very nice dinner.

    And how do you serve a Caprese salad? Just about any way you want. This dish works as a starter, side salad, or even a main course. Put it between a few slices of bread and you have a great sandwich. We like to serve the Caprese as a large side salad along with a small serving of meat or fish- we are particularly fond of seared skirt steak with the Caprese. And while we love our cocktails, a good bright red or white wine will certainly go well with this dish. A sunny day doesn’t hurt either…

    Caprese Salad:

    Notes Before You Start:

    • Fresh, ripe tomatoes are key. If you don’t have them, don’t bother.
    • Fleur de sel or quality sea salt, with its crunch, is a good salt to use on this dish.

    What You Get: One of the best dishes in the world. Seriously.

    What You Need: No special equipment required. Just good ingredients.

    How Long? Five minutes or less. Slice, arrange, season and serve. Anytime dish when tomatoes are in season.

    Ingredients:

    (Serves 2 as a large salad, 4 as a side dish or starter)

    • 1 and 1/2 pounds of ripe tomatoes (3 large or 5-6 medium tomatoes)
    • 3/4 pound of fresh mozzarella cheese
    • 12 basil leaves
    • 1 tablespoon olive oil
    • 1 teaspoon sherry vinegar
    • 1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
    • Kosher salt or fleur de sel
    • Fresh black pepper

    Assemble:

    1. Wash, core and slice the tomatoes into 1/4 inch disks. Slice the cheese into 1/4 inch disks or break the cheese into small pieces. Layer tomato slices on a serving plate and season with the salt and pepper. Add half of the oil and vinegars.
    2. Chiffonade half of the basil leaves and scatter over the tomatoes. Evenly distribute the cheese over the tomatoes and basil. Season with salt and pepper and sprinkle on the rest of the oil and the vinegars. Arrange the whole basil leaves on top of the cheese and serve.
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  • Simple Garden Recipes: Summer Corn Salad

    Corn on the cob. So easy we almost feel guilty posting it.

    Summer corn salad.

    When you see this, stop and buy some corn.

    On the east coast of the US no other food says “summer” quite like fresh corn on the cob. Farm stands selling corn picked that morning are literally everywhere. And it is quite common (at least with our family and friends) to hear people arguing over what stand has the “best” corn. These arguments sound like wine aficionados comparing appellations and vintages- slightly ridiculous, but great, harmless fun. And while all the fresh corn here is good, there are differences between farms. We are lucky to have so many choices.

    The other argument you might hear is where the best corn comes from. Not surprisingly we are fans of eastern Long Island corn. The weather and soil are perfect, the demand is high and the farmers compete to raise the best corn. A good combination. Now, we also enjoy corn from New Jersey and other mid-Atlantic states, but we know of no other area where the farms are just a few minutes away from most of the people. You can literally bring your water to a boil, drive, bike or walk to the farm stand in less than five minutes and then bring the corn back and put it in the pot. And then you are just three minutes from heaven. And we do mean 3 minutes…

    Why 3 minutes? Well, if you have fresh corn, the best way to enjoy it is to eat it off the cob with minimal cooking. Simply boil the water, drop the corn in the water for three minutes. Once cooked, remove the corn from the water, slather with butter, liberally apply salt and pepper and serve. Perfection. The corn will be cooked but still very crisp and sweet. If you must cook the corn longer we suggest that 3 minutes=”rare”, 3.5 minutes= “medium rare”, 4 minutes= “Medium”, etc. But we suggest that anything past medium will rob the corn of its crisp texture. And the corn’s flavor and texture are some of the best nature has to offer.

    3 minutes- Max!

    Continue reading

  • Green In Winter, Brown In Summer

    Mowing the pasture. Summer is here.

    For those who move to California, particularly from the east coast, one of the biggest adjustments is that winter is the “green” season and summer is the “brown” season. When summer comes, the grasses in the open spaces of the chaparral areas of the state turn into the “golden” color that gives the state its nickname “the golden state”. And the rolling hills, scattered with oaks, are quite beautiful.

    Lavender. This flower comes with a soundtrack.

    On a more practical note, when the hills turn gold it means that summer is here and we need to mow the pasture. Fire is a real danger, especially near populated areas. The Oakland hills, just across the bay from us, burnt in 1991 with the cost of 25 lives and $1.5 billion in damage. When the grass gets dry, the big tractor mowers come out (we hire the guys, too big a job for us). And if you don’t get your mowing done, your neighbors will let you hear about it.

    Lettuce at its peak.

    Red leaf lettuce doing well this year.

    But while the pastures are brown, our gardens are overflowing with green..and purple. Let’s start with the purple. Our lavender, once just on the cusp, is in full bloom. It will last for months and the honeybees will work it, almost exclusively, for the rest of the summer. Here at the “farm” summer comes with a soundtrack, the constant humming of bees in the lavender. Both the honeybees and the native bees enjoy the lavender and completely ignore us, and everything else, while they work the flowers. Happily, the native bees will work / pollinate some of the other plants, while the honeybees seem to focus on the “highest and best” sources of nectar. That focus is what gives us “varietal” honey like clover or orange-blossom. I guess we basically get lavender honey.

    The peas are just coming in.

    The nasturtiums are very, very happy this season.

    As for the green, it is all around us in the garden. Our peas are just forming pods, lettuces are at their peak and the tomatoes show their frist fruit. The tomatoes have us very excited, lots of blossoms and growth foreshadow a good crop in the late summer. And the basil runs in parallel to the tomatoes. We see Caprese salads in our future. Oddly, our zucchini plant seems more interested in growing huge leaves than in producing zucchini. We still get zucchini, but yields are lower than expected. Our arugula is also low-yield (part of a bed that seems unhappy this year). As zucchini and arugula are “easy” crops, this is a bit humbling, but such is the nature of the garden and orchard. We get a bumper crop of cherries and can barely grow zucchini. Go figure. Continue reading