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Caprese Salad, A Summer Time Favorite

One of the things I look forward to most in the summer are Caprese salads.

There is nothing like a fresh, ripe tomato. Wild Onion Farms has the best out there. I love their Kellogg’s Breakfast and Marianna’s Peace tomatoes.

Kellogg’s Breakfast is a warm, sunny light yellow-orange color. They have a good bit of water in them so they don’t make the best canning tomatoes, but I can them anyway. The flavor is out of sight. It is very floral and tomato-ie. They are very sweet.

Marianna’s Peace is a red tomato with a bit of pink to them. It is also floral in flavor, but a little meatier (less water). I also can these to get me through the winter.

These two breeds are great on sandwiches, as sauce for spaghetti, beans and rice, a base for curry sauce, salads, and more.

Here is my recipe for a Caprese salad:

– Tomatoes
– Fresh Mozzarella
– Fresh Basil
– Olive Oil
– Balsamic Vinegar
– Cracked Pepper (optional)

I like to choose tomatoes that are small in diameter so they can be sliced pretty (3 inches or so). Some heirloom tomatoes will grow very large and you end up having to cut them down smaller, losing that nice round edge. Sometimes I’ll use both the Kellogg’s Breakfast and Marianna’s Peace to create more color. If you want to get crazy, grill the tomato slices.

Mozzarella should always be fresh for the best taste (not harder processed mozzarella). I’ve been getting my cheese from the Hillsborough Cheese Company at the Downtown Raleigh Farmers’ Market. They have a lot of different types of handcrafted cheese. Super yummy.

Fresh basil is a must for this recipe, not dried. I suppose you can use dried, but it won’t have the same taste. The fresh basil really smacks you in the face.

You’ll want to have your balsamic reduction prepared beforehand. Put some balsamic vinegar in a sauce pan and heat it to a boil. Reduce heat and allow to boil until it thickens. You can make a large quantity and keep it, or make it as needed. I usually make it when I’m slicing the tomatoes and mozzarella.

You must watch and not allow it to burn. It only takes a few minutes to reduce a small amount. I let it cool for a few seconds before drizzling. This gives me more control over where it lands on the plate. I can spread it out better once it has firmed up a bit. Don’t let it sit too long though or it will harden and not pour.

We can go into a whole long thing about balsamic vinegar, but you probably just want to get on with it. I’ll just provide the cliff notes version: Most balsamic vinegar isn’t real. It is simply cheap wine vinegar with color added to it. Real balsamic vinegar will be expensive because it’s aged like wine anywhere from 12-100 years! It will get thicker as it ages. The only ingredient should be grape must if it is truly balsamic vinegar. Cheap balsamic vinegar tends to be thin so you need to reduce it to boil away the liquid.

I recently tried Napa Valley Naturals’ Grand Reserve Balsamic Vinegar and it is pretty thick. I don’t need to reduce it much.

Get your tomatoes and mozzarella sliced up, about 1/4 inch thick. Lay the tomatoes on a plate. Place the mozzarella slices over the tomato slices. Drizzle olive oil over them. Then drizzle your balsamic reduction. Place basil on top. Add pepper if desired and serve.

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