Caprese Salad with Balsamic Reduction

For years I was convinced that I was not a tomato person.  Grainy and often tasteless, I snubbed my nose at the tomato for years, wondering how everyone else in the world was able to palate them.  I think the only time I ever enjoyed a tomato before the age of 18 was immediately after the movie “Fried Green Tomatoes” was released, when my mother convinced me to try the namesake dish.  Although let’s be honest, I’d eat a shoe if it were soaked in buttermilk, dipped in egg, dredged in cornmeal, and skillet-fried in lard, therefore to like a tomato that had been through that grueling process was no stretch.  So, other than the “fried green” variety, I avoided the tomato like the plague until I was into my 20′s.  It wasn’t until I moved to South Carolina and began working in a small, locally-owned, country grocery store on an island 30 minutes away from town that I eventually changed my mind.

Johns Island is a lovely place (and no, I didn’t forget the apostrophe there).  Minutes from the adjacent resort town known for its world-class golf, monstrosity of a 5-star resort, and gated community full of pristine bike paths, Johns Island is worlds away.  Serene and slow, in the best of ways, it’s a place still full of dusty dirt roads,  unpretentious horse stables, and beautiful old oaks full of Spanish moss leaning, sometimes perilously, over the thoroughfares.  It is a place where nighttime is still quiet.

There is a huge farming community on the island, and this is how I had my first real tomato.  A customer, grateful that I had let him in to buy a bag of ice after store hours had technically ended one hot summer’s evening, repaid the favor by bringing me a bag of tomatoes from his farm the next day.  Not wanting to be rude, I graciously accepted the gift and carried on with my day.  It wasn’t until I got home that night and really looked at the tomatoes that I noticed they were different than the ones I had always seen in the national chain stores.

These tomatoes were hideous. They were green, black, purple, red, and yellow.  They had stripes, spots, and random splotches of color throughout. Every tomato looked like it had been beaten up or experienced some sort of disease.  After a moment of reflection I realized they must be heirloom tomatoes. ( More info on heirloom tomatoes here )

I decided to be brave and give the ugly things a try.  After all, if I didn’t like it I could throw it out and no one would ever know…but, gasp! I did like it.  Full of flavor, not at all grainy, and perfectly delicious with just a little bit of salt and pepper on top.

I knew what I had to do with the others: make a dish that I had always wished I liked as a non-tomato-eater: Caprese Salad.

Now, years later, this dish signifies the beginning of summer for me, and I anxiously await the arrival of the local heirloom tomatoes in the farmer’s market each year so that I can make this easy, classic dish.

This week, they appeared!

CAPRESE SALAD

  • 1 hierloom tomato, 1/4″ slices
  • 1 ball fresh mozzarella, same as above
  • 3 – 5 fresh basil leaves
  • freshly ground pepper, to taste

Stack the basil leaves on top of one another and tightly roll them up.  Thinly slice the rolls to get strips of basil.  Congratulations, you now know how to chiffonade.

Beginning with a tomato slice, alternate tomato and mozzarella slices, drizzle with balsamic reduction, and top with the basil chioffonade and a twist or two of freshly ground pepper.

Easiest. Recipe. Ever.

BALSAMIC REDUCTION

  • 1/2 cup Balsamic Vinegar
  • pinch of sugar

In a heavy saucepan, bring the balsamic vinegar to a boil.  Boil on medium high heat, stirring frequently to avoid burning, until the liquid has reduced by approximately one half.  I used a 3 quart pan, and this meant that there was only a thin layer of liquid covering the bottom of the pan when it was ready.  Allow to come to room temperature before using.   Any leftovers will keep in the refrigerator indefinitely.

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