Weekly Winner: Perfecting the Perfect Salad

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Apparently we are in our “Salad Days” of summer here in Chicago if my last two posts are any indication.  And why not?  It is summer.  It is hot.  The produce is phenomenal now and when life hands you heirloom  tomatoes — well, you make salads.

I believe the perfect salad has got to be the traditional Caprese.  But it is salad that, in my opinion, can truly only be enjoyed in summer when the tomatoes are at their peak.  The styrafoam-no-taste tomatoes of winter and spring just won’t cut it.  But even now, when tomatoes are pure perfection, I had to ask myself: “Is there a way to  improve upon the quintessential, classic combination of ingredients that make up the perfect salad?”  What could possibly make this even better.  Bacon!!!  Truth be told, I find that “bacon” is often the answer to many of life’s ponderables.

So, without further ado, I present this week’s Weekly Winner – Hot Bacon Caprese Salad which comes from Southern Living Magazine.

 

Hot Bacon Caprese Salad

Ingredients:

  • 2 ½ pounds heirloom tomatoes, cut into ½ -inch slices
  • 1 (16-oz.) package fresh mozzarella cheese, cut into ½ -inch slices
  • ½ cup fresh basil leaves
  • 6 thick bacon slices, coarsely chopped
  • 3 to 4 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Method:

  1. Arrange tomatoes and cheese on a serving platter, placing basil leaves between slices. Sprinkle with desired amount of salt and pepper.
  2. Saute chopped bacon in a large skillet over medium heat 6 to 8 minutes or until crisp. Remove from heat, reserving bacon and 2 Tbsp. drippings in skillet. Let stand 1 minute. Add vinegar and oil, stirring to loosen browned bits from bottom of skillet. Sprinkle with 1/2 tsp. kosher salt and 1/2 tsp. black pepper.
  3. Drizzle warm bacon mixture over tomatoes and cheese. Serve immediately.

 

Weekly Winner: A Self-Contained Summer Supper

tomatoesI am generally not a fan of stuffed vegetables.  I find that the vegetable that is being stuffed is usually either terribly overcooked and soggy, or not cooked at all.  If its overcooked, the whole thing tends to fall apart, and if it isn’t cooked enough it is messy and impossible to eat.  Then I came across this recipe for stuffed tomatoes and suddenly all is right with my world.

For one thing it is the height of summer and the tomatoes are fabulous.  This recipe definitely calls for big, meaty beefsteak tomatoes.  Then there’s the fact that you use the entire tomato.  After hollowing it out, you use the tomato “innards” for the sauce.  I like that.  Then there’s the fact that basically everything is mixed and chopped up in the food processor — easy!  And finally, my favorite thing about this recipe is that the combination of all ingredients makes the final product taste like a pizza topping.  Bonus!  Oh yeah, and it’s pretty!!  And who doesn’t like a pretty dinner?  That’s a win-win-win-win!

OK, enough raving — here’s the recipe which comes from Food Network Magazine.  Trust me, if you’ve been disappointed with other stuffed veggie dishes, this is your recipe.  Or even if you haven’t been disappointed with other recipes, you might be after trying this one!  Either way, you’re guaranteed one tasty, pretty, summer supper!

Sausage-and-Basil-Stuffed Tomatoes

Serves 8

Ingredients:

  • 8 medium tomatoes, preferably with stems intact
  • 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • Pinch of cayenne pepper
  • 3/4 pound sweet Italian sausage, casings removed
  • 1 teaspoon herbes de Provence
  • 1 small green bell pepper, diced
  • 1/2 large onion, diced
  • 1 stalk celery, diced, plus a handful of celery leaves
  • 1 small clove garlic, minced
  • 2 cups bread cubes (from about 1/2 baguette)
  • 1 cup fresh basil
  • 1/2 cup walnut pieces
  • 1/3 cup grated parmesan cheese

Method:

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Using a serrated knife, slice off the top quarter of each tomato and reserve the tops. Scoop out the pulp from inside each tomato and transfer it to a food processor. Add 2 tablespoons olive oil and the cayenne to the food processor and process until smooth; pour into a 9-by-13-inch baking dish.

Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the sausage, herbes de Provence, bell pepper, onion, diced celery and garlic. Cook, stirring, until the sausage browns, about 5 minutes. Transfer the sausage mixture and bread cubes to the food processor and pulse until chopped. Pack the tomatoes with the sausage-bread mixture so the stuffing is domed on top. Put the stuffed tomatoes in the baking dish on top of the sauce.

Place the basil, walnuts, cheese and celery leaves in the food processor and chop. Sprinkle onto the tomatoes. Put the tomato tops, cut-side down, between the stuffed tomatoes. Bake until the stuffing is golden, about 20 minutes. Cover each tomato with a top and serve with the sauce.

Summer Breezes and back to the little things

This afternoon as I stood in my kitchen with the door open and a warm humid breeze blowing through the house I remembered… yes indeed, it is the little things.

I started this blog for just these moments.  Small fragments of time when you just stop and enjoy.  I’ve been posting more and more about food (yes, there is the Weekly Winner embedded in this post) but while cooking does bring me tremendous joy, perhaps I have lost touch with my other Quick Qis.  So here it is:

Summer Breeze

I realize I’m showing my age with this song.  But as I stood and enjoyed the warm, humid air wafting through the house while I prepared one of my favorite salads, I was truly happy.  I like humidity, I admit it!  I like to feel the air I’m breathing.  Now of course, I can’t get the song out of my head!

As for the salad it is a Toasted Pita Salad.  I found the recipe years ago in Cooking Light magazine and it has always been one of my favorites.

Toasted Pita Salad

Serves 6

Ingredients:

2 (6-inch) pitas, split in half horizontally

3 cups chopped tomato (about 4 medium)

1 1/2 cups chopped English cucumber

1/4 cup finely chopped red onion

1/4 cup chopped fresh oregano

2 tbsp chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

2 tbsp fresh lime juice

1 tsp ground cumin

4 tsp extra-virgin olive oil

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper

1/2 tsp honey

Preparation:

1. Preheat oven to 350°.

2. Place pitas on a baking sheet; bake at 350° for 10 minutes or until crisp. Cool completely; break into small pieces.

3. Combine tomato and next 4 ingredients (through parsley) in a large bowl. Combine lime juice and remaining ingredients in a small bowl, stirring with a whisk. Pour juice mixture over tomato mixture; toss gently. Add pita pieces to bowl; toss gently. Let stand 10 minutes before serving.