July 23, 2010

Recipe: Heirloom Tomato Caprese Salad

When I told a friend I had written an article on heirloom gardening [July/August Cooking with Paula Deen — check it out on newsstands, friends], she guessed that it meant "inheriting a garden and keeping it up." She was close on the inheriting idea. An heirloom plant is one whose seeds have been passed on for more than 50 years. 

Each fruit or veggies had a unique color, shape, and taste, which are typically more complex than your standard grocery store variety, and it likewise comes with its own story (and anything with a story gains cool points in my book). I had no idea just how big heirloom gardening was until I saw firsthand an heirloom gardening festival last spring where hundreds of people trekked to middle-of-nowhere Missouri (near Laura Ingalls Wilder's house) in the rain to buy seeds and plants of hundreds of varieties.

While the endless varieties of melons, tomatoes, squash, and more inspired me to plant my own, I have excused it off for now with the uncertainty of long-term housing and resorted paying a little extra for tomatoes available for sale. Those above actually came from Fresh Market; ideally, I would have shopped for some at the farmer's market but leaving town literally every weekend tragically makes that task a little cumbersome.

Anyway, I showed off the colorful fruit in a caprese salad layered with mozzarella and topped with fresh basil, olive oil, and vinegar. The simple combo dressed up the flavor profile of tomatoes so that my usual sliced-tomatoes-are-ok stance became an I-should-eat-this-as-a-whole-meal-not-a-side-dish. It made such a purdy presentation with little hassle. 

I would have preferred super-soft white fresh mozzarella to the more dense yellow variety, but I was trying to use up what was in the fridge. I learned that my dad, who usually goes more gourmet in preference, prefers the more flavorful basic kind; plus, it is cheaper.

[Rough] Caprese Salad 
*I guessimated on my measurements. If you like more structure in a recipe, try this one.

Tomatoes, sliced
Mozzarella, sliced
Fresh basil, sliced or torn
Olive oil
Balsamic vinegar
Salt and pepper

Layer tomato slices and mozzarella. Sprinkle with basil, salt, and pepper. Drizzle oil and vinegar on top. Enjoy.

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