Monday, April 13, 2015

Best5Zach's Caprese Salad Recipe

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While writing my last article on how to prepurpose an old set of boxsprings into a raised herb garden, I realize that I have been slacking with blogging some of my favorite recipes. I have many good recipes, at least I think so. Such as my bacon wrapped venison tenderloin and cucumber vinaigrette salad. You can find those on the links below:

Best5Zach's Vinaigrette Cucumber Salad

Anyway, so I realized while writing the aforementioned blog on the herb garden, that I had not written about my caprese salad. That's a shame. Everyone should try it. 

First off, using your own herbs is almost a necessity. A single sprig of a fresh herb is worth a whole bottle of its dried counterpart. The full flavor and consistency of fresh herbs cannot be replaced from a jar. Period. Which is why it was imperative that I setup an herb garden at my new house. You can read about it here:

Additionally, using your own vine ripened tomatoes is always better than using store bought. Now, I realize that isn't always an issue, but everyone can afford to raise a plant or two.  I can tell you that there have been single side dishes, such as this caprese salad, which validated all of the hard work of an entire spring and summer. All for just a few PERFECT tomatoes. Keep in mind that there is no such thing as vine-ripened store bought. It just isn't possible. And, though you can certainly get some quality products at your local grocery, it's all about timing. The earlier in the year you buy it, the worse it will be. You will get those gritty and mealy tomatoes. On the flip side, the better they get, later in the year, the harder it is to find them available. Many times the choice product is gone by the time you get to the store. 

Finding a good mozzarella cheese and quality vinegar isn't' as hard as finding the herbs and tomatoes, but the quality is frequently reflected in the cost. I'm not going to tell you to buy a $25 bottle of vinegar nor a $12 block of mozzarella. Quite the opposite. While you can certainly improve your product, there is a diminishing return on investment. Besides, 90% of the flavor is carried with the tomatoes and herbs. 

Anyway, that's a long start to a short recipe. 

Here is what you need:
  • 2 cups of balsamic vinegar
  • 10-12 leaves of fresh sweet basil
  • 1 fist-sized block of mozzarella
  • black peppercorns and grinder
  • small amount of kosher salt
  • 1 table spoon of brown sugar
  • A bottle of extra virgin olive oil (optional)

In a small sauce pan, slowly reduce the balsamic vinegar. This is down by heating until you achieve a low roil. You do not want to scorch it. Additionally, make sure that your overhead fan is running. You want to hold the temperature as low as you can and still manage to reduce it. I add a single table spoon of brown sugar to make sure that I get a nice consistent and highly viscous reduction.It also adds a significant amount of sweetness to off-set the tart of the vinegar.  While 2 cups is a lot, and will produce more than you need, controlling 2 cups is a lot easier to control than the actual half cup you will use. When the reduction is complete, allow it to cool. 

While the vinegar is cooling, wash and strain you sweet basil leaves. I like to cut the leaves into strips. 

Cut your tomato into slices. I usually cut mine into 1/4" slices and arrange them on the plate. As I eat them, I will cut them into quarters. 

Cut your mozzarella into your desired shape and size chunks. I cut mine into thick 1" slices. Basically, when I cut my tomato into quarter slices as I eat, I want a piece of cheese as large as the slice.  

Now, lay the tomatoes on your plate. Then arrange the cheese on top. Sprinkle your sweet basil leaves liberally on top of the cheese. 

Though not necessary, I like a light drizzle of olive oil over the salad.

When the reduced vinegar is cool, drizzle it onto the top of your salad. The cooler it is, the more viscous it becomes, so don't be surprised by its resistance to flow. You can add as much or as little as you like. 

Lastly, lightly sprinkle kosher salt onto the the salad before grinding fresh black peppercorns onto the top.