When our country’s collective heart feels as if it’s breaking in two and violence appears out of everywhere and nowhere for reasons we know but don’t always understand well, I don’t know where to turn. We have no family in the town in which we live, though we’ve a long run of perfect friends — all distanced at this point. MISS YOU!!!
Our church, of course, is not meeting and won’t be, we just learned, until a vaccine is well-in-hand–at least 18 months. It makes total sense (who wants to sing or take communion with a rampant virus amongst us?), but it’s a hurting, deeply pained sort of knowledge. Especially after the last few days of death and destruction — knowing we’ll be alone with all of this without our loved community available for processing. The Twin Cities is one of our very favorite places on earth as many close friends have lived there for years. I did some graduate work at University of St. Thomas and we later bought our own house in St. Paul while I directed a choir at a beautiful Methodist church in Minneapolis. To watch and listen to what my old friends and neighbors are going through is hard, hard; they can’t deal with murder at the hands of police. Who can? And next, why would anyone try to destroy such a place — or any of the other cities under fire? Is there nothing better to do during a pandemic but wreak havoc? Protest is needed, legal, and a great right in the U.S.; burning and looting businesses simply ruins the fabric of our cities and towns, as well as our culture. Can our economy or our citizens take more? Are the good guys and bad guys switching hats or what?
When life is damned confusing or gut-wrenching, we move toward comfort… people whose arms belong around us, music that soothes us, movies we know inside and out, and the meals our bodies remember as soul-warming and easy. Despite it definitely not being tomato time in Colorado, Caprese Salad is among my very happiest dishes and that’s what I went with last weekend. It’s simple, tasty, filling, versatile, adaptable, and welcoming. A basic caprese and some sliced baguette are nearly all I want some hot summer nights and that’s often all we get, albeit sometimes with little additions and sweet changes. Because that’s fun, right? And while bastardizing a Caprese Salad isn’t at the top of most cook’s dreams, I’ve done it proudly for more years than I can remember now. Occasionally I even make the cheese, though it’s a simple homemade cheese–not true mozzarella.
Below: a zucchini caprese of mine with lemony green beans one hot night at our St. Paul house.
What is a caprese salad and what’s its background?
Check out some of my other caprese riffs here.
Being at the mercy of online ordering and once-a-week drive up pickup for our groceries these days, I had to think ahead about a caprese last week. Even though the timing was off, I had a hankering for it and made sure to include fresh mozzarella, tomatoes, and fresh basil on my list. I wasn’t sure what I’d do with it (because I never know), but I was thinking about sharing steak and red wine with the love of my life come Friday (date) night. Caprese, in whatever form, would be an easy first course. Rifling through the crisper, I came across a green produce bag full of medium-sized zucchini still in good shape, but perhaps feeling somewhat neglected. Grilled zuke coins would fill out my salad and provide a green vegetable to boot. I could have used the zucchini uncooked — and might have if it were young and straight out of my garden — but the grill appeared this squash’s best bet. As I cut into it, this is what I saw….
And, as the week unfolded and we kept reading and listening to more and more about the losses so many cities were suffering, I was damned glad I’d had the sense to have this precious dish’s ingredients at hand for sustenance and solace. While it has dozens of wonderful memories in my own kitchen, I also had perfect reminders of seeing the Isle of Capri (caprese’s home town), just across the Bay of Naples in Italy. (We were on a trip from from Rome to Israel and back.) Not a great picture, but just below is Capri between us in the distance along with all the boats enjoying a beautiful fall day. No, we didn’t get over there, but we had the time of our lives in Naples walking, talking, drinking, and, of course, eating pizza (second photo) where it was born.
Do make sure you buy fresh mozzarella and use it fairly quickly as fresh cheese doesn’t have a long lifespan. Following a vegan diet? Skip the cheese and double the tomatoes or add cucumber, grilled baby eggplant, or grilled thinly sliced baguette slices in its place. I hope your garden contains some basil and maybe some tomatoes, and that, if not now, this salad is on your list of cooking plans for summer. Try this:
Grilled Zucchini Caprese
- Kosher Salt, Fresh Ground Pepper, Aleppo Pepper (can sub piment d'Espellette or a lesser amount of crushed red pepper)
- 6 ounces Fresh mozzarella log- sliced thinly
- 2 Roma tomatoes- sliced thinly
- 1 Medium zucchini, trimmed and sliced 1/4-inch thick–grilled or sautéed (SEE NOTES)
- 6 Large fresh basil leaves/torn in half (or use more small leaves)
- Balsamic vinegar (omit if using vinagrette/recipe below on blog)
- Extra-virgin olive oil (omit if using vinaigrette/recipe below on blog)
- Sprinkle all of the sliced mozzarella and sliced tomatoes lightly with kosher salt, freshly ground pepper, and a tiny bit of Aleppo pepper.
- On a small rectangular platter, layer the tomatoes, mozzarella, basil leaves, and grilled or sautéed zucchini in one or two lines as needed. If using a round or oval platter, create a circle or oval out of the vegetables. (Can sub fresh zucchini or fresh cucumbers or…)
- Drizzle with balsamic vinegar and olive oil or Balsamic Vinaigrette (recipe below). Serve at room temperature.
Alyce’s (and soon to be yours) Balsamic Vinaigrette
- 1/3 cup fine quality balsamic vinegar-I like Masserie di Sant’eramo
- 2 heaping tablespoons dijon-style mustard
- 1 tablespoon honey
- 1 shallot-minced
- 2 garlic cloves-minced
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt-or to taste–this is a cup of dressing
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly-ground pepper
- several drops tabasco
- 2/3 cup best quality you can afford extra-virgin olive oil
- To the food processor bowl*, add all ingredients except oil. Let sit five minutes. Pulse slowly until thoroughly pureed and very-well mixed.
- With machine running, slowly pour the 2/3 cup olive oil into the tube on top of the processor and leave running until thoroughly emulsified. Taste and adjust seasonings.
WHAT ABOUT BALSAMIC VINEGAR? Yep, the good stuff costs and yep, it’s the thing to do if at all possible.
Store shelves contain a variety of balsamic vinegars in a plethora of price points. Some run-of-the-mill grocery stores don’t even carry a real high-end balsamic vinegar because it’s too expensive for their customers. I keep a couple of different balsamics–one for basting or marinating or bowls of sauces and the other for making vinaigrette or drizzling on meat and salads all by its lonesome. Whatever the grocer has on sale will do for the prior and for the latter, I either buy or order this one. (photo above) There are many other yummy ones, too — some at much higher prices than my go-to! The price varies, but I pay it; the vinegar lasts a long time and is worth the cash. Occasionally it’s available at Whole Foods or Williams-Sonoma; otherwise amazon usually carries it. If by chance you have an olive oil store nearby, sometimes they carry a tasty balsamic vinegar.
Read up on balsamic vinegars on Food52.
SOME LIVES GO ON…
Breathe and pray for a peaceful way forward and be good to yourself and all those you love as you do,