Sunday, July 10, 2011

Caprese Salad and Garden Update

I had such a late start to my garden this season. Spring was very cold and rainy.  I LOVED it, but seedlings don't appreciate the almost freezing night temps and the continuous rain.  A greenhouse would have been perfect!!  When I wrote my first garden blog, I told you I talk to my little guys. (I know - crazy right?) but I really do think it helps!   I would say to them, "take the cool while you can, the summer heat is on it's way and you might be sorry!"  Boy did the heat come, didn't it? For the most part, the plants are hanging in there and in most cases, they are thriving!

My grandson loves my garden.  He loves to pick and eat "matoes".  He knows exactly when they turn the perfect red.  Having him enjoy my garden with me is FAR MORE fulfilling that the actual garden!  He is my little gardening buddy.  Right now, he's waiting patiently for apples and melons!!
The flowers are beautiful and compliment the vegetables!!

Tree fruit did well.  I have harvested loquats, Peaches, Apricots and Cherries so far, with Nectarines and Apples just about ready.

The Boysen, Black and Blue berries are completely harvested.  The crop was great, but when the heat hit, it turned some of the Blackberries and boysenberries into "raisins" almost immediately. I was shocked at the speed in which that happened!!  I figure I lost a third of the second picking.  I thought Hmmm, I wonder if a "berry raisin is good?"  Ummm. The answer is NO!!  Dried up berries are NOT me on that one!  The blueberries LOVED the coolness and gave me a large crop this year (probably about 2 pints) but completely petered out when the massive heat hit.   Now I am waiting on Raspberries which are a bit later in the season.

The herbs are doing great!  Crops of Chive, Thyme, Oregano, Sage, Basil, Thai Basil, Rosemary, Parsley and Mint are finally doing well.  It took a lot of coaxing through the cold, but the results are beautifully worth it in my everyday cooking!  My two year old grandson is completely enamored with my herb garden.  He can name every herb and he loves eating the fresh leaves of each one!  He will pop basil in his mouth and say..."NUMMY!  BASIL!  His favorite?  MINT!!  Why?  because he says it tastes like "bubble" - his term for gum!  SOOO cute!! 

The plants in the Earthboxes are absolutely growing like they are on steroids.  They do every year!  If you are interested, look at and check these boxes out.  I LOVE them and the plants they produce.  The Italian Sweet Marconi peppers are producing their first crop, the Tomatoes are abundant, healthy (and delicious!), my Indian and Thai Eggplants are FINALLY growing up - first fruits on their way, and the melons (honeydew and cantaloupe) are FINALLY climbing up the trellis, I encourage them every day!

The cucumbers are just starting to climb (boy...did they have trouble with the cool.  Super late start), the green beans are about ready for picking and I am waiting on the tomatillos.  I have NEVER had good luck growing tomatillos, but I am hopeful this year I wont just have a "lovely Plant" , but also fruits to go with it.

What do do with it all?  Well, the fruits are mostly eaten fresh (check out the grilled fruit recipe in June)  But the berries are frozen immediately  in order to make preserves, cobblers, sauces and smoothies.

All of this leads me to the caprese salad.  I grow quite a bit of basil.  I want pesto, fresh tomato sauces, and caprese salads  in the summer.

If you are lucky enough to grow your own tomatoes, this is obviously a dynamite way to use them.  If not, the markets are chock full of vine ripened or heirloom tomatoes.  I prefer heirloom tomatoes, for the flavor and I don't grow that variety - I am going to try again next year!  But in the heat of summer, a cool refreshing caprese salad with a tossed pasta dish is PERFECT for summer dinner.  I served My Caprese salad with some of the Butternut Pasta Sauce that I froze (see archives for post)  and tossed in cheese tortillini's.  The perfect wine?  Pinot Grigio.  It was a great meal.

Caprese Salad
Figure calories for the cheese and oil
Picture below is before oil and vinegar

FRESH mozzarella Cheese
Fresh vine ripened or heirloom Tomatoes
Fresh basil
Olive Oil
Balsamic vinegar
chunky finishing salt - optional

The quantities are up to many tomatoes, how much cheese and basil depends on the number of servings.

Before we start, I want to talk about Mozzarella cheese.  There are many different varieties of mozzarella.  Fresh mozzarella is packed in water, for the most part.  This cheese is soft, fresh with a creamy texture.  It is nothing like the mozzarella ball you see for pizza that Progresso or other brands sell.  What I call pizza mozzarella should not be used for this salad, just my opinion.  I have had some pretty good Fresh mozzarella that was packed in a "ball form" labeled FRESH and it was very soft with a good texture - if you see that kind, I can recommend it or seek out the water packed variety.

Slice your tomatoes and mozzarella into rounds of about 1/4" thick and layer them on a flat plate.  Tomato, cheese, tomato, cheese, etc....

Thinly slice fresh basil (as much as you like) and put it on top of the tomatoes and cheese.  Drizzle olive oil and balsamic vinegar to taste and top with chunky finishing salt (I use pink Himalayan, but other chunky sea salts will be good also - Salt is optional.)

I used O'olive oil's Garlic infused and regular aged balsamic vinegar - absolutely delish!

The result?  A perfectly cooling, fresh and tangy salad with the unmistakable flavor of basil. The occasional crunch of great sea salt is texturally satisfying.  This is so unbelievably easy to throw together, but gorgeous in it's simplicity. This is the taste of summer at it's best. 

From my home to yours, ENJOY!

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