Double Duty Caprese

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I was invited to a Chanukah luncheon in early December. The hostess prefaced the invite with, “We are serving latkes, bagels, lox, deli, bread, sandwiches. A total carb fest, nothing healthy.”

Sounded great to me, but it was clear she was a bit sideways about the spread.

I offered to bring something — sweet treat or healthy green salad. She opted for the greens, so I began to consider what to make. I wanted something that would be hearty enough for the folks that were avoiding bread and carbs (which alas, has become almost the norm these days), but I did not want to upstage the latkes and lox.

A caprese salad seemed to strike the right note; the cheese delivers enough heft and protein that the salad can stand on its own, but it can be a perfect side if there are other items taking center stage. I managed to find fresh mozzarella “pearls,” which are the ideal size for a large salad and requiring no cutting by the cook.

Tomatoes this time of year are rather grim, but I located some cherry tomatoes on sale at the grocery store and roasted them into a sweet, slightly charred oblivion a day ahead of time. If this is not appealing to you, if you don’t have time to roast and chill the tomatoes, or if you are a strict “in-season” produce eater, julienne-cut jarred sun-dried tomatoes are a suitable substitute.

The best part about this dish was the leftovers, which shocked me more than anyone because I refuse to save salad once it’s dressed. I have no use for that soggy mess, and generally I am precise in my salad size to avoid waste.

But I had no idea how many people were coming or how many would eat salad, so I went big. And, OK, the salad didn’t last for eight days, but the mini Chanukah miracle was that the leftover salad became a delicious pasta for my hosts’ dinner the following night.

Henceforth, I shall strongly consider doubling my quantities for this salad and having tomorrow’s dinner in the bag in a few simple steps.

Double Duty Caprese

Serves six with leftovers

For the tomatoes:

4 pints cherry tomatoes

2 tablespoons oil

Generous pinch kosher salt

Generous grinding of fresh cracked pepper

For the salad:

1 pound arugula (the large double-sized bag)

1 pound fresh mozzarella cheese (pearl sized, or cut into small, bite-sized pieces)

For the dressing:

½ cup extra-virgin olive oil

¼ cup balsamic vinegar

¼ teaspoon salt

Generous grinding pepper

¼ teaspoon garlic powder

Heat your oven to 400 degrees. Place the rinsed tomatoes on a large rimmed cookie sheet and toss with the olive oil, salt and pepper. Roast for about 30 minutes until some of

Salad of roasted tomatoes, mozzarella and Basil

tomatoes are charred and all have split open. Stir occasionally while roasting.

Remove the tomatoes from the oven and cool completely. This step can be done two days ahead. Place the cooled tomatoes in a container in the refrigerator.

In a large salad bowl, place the arugula, cheese and tomatoes (with liquid) in layers to ensure even distribution. (If you use a glass bowl it looks really pretty.)

In a small bowl, mix the dressing ingredients with a fork. Taste for salt. Right before serving, toss half of the dressing over the salad and mix well. If more dressing is needed, add a little bit at a time. Serve immediately. (Save any remaining dressing for the next recipe.)

When diners have eaten their fill, place the salad in a sealed container with any extra dressing and all the “drippings” from the bowl. Refrigerate until ready to use — no more than 24 hours later.

Double Duty Caprese Pasta

1 quart leftover caprese (see above)

1 pound your favorite pasta

Parmesan cheese and fresh pepper to taste

Remove the “salad” from the refrigerator about an hour before serving so it can come to room temperature. (This helps the cheese melt a bit when it hits the hot pasta).

Cook the pasta according to package directions in well-salted water to al dente (usually 1 minute less than indicated on the package). Save about 1 cup of the cooking liquid, then drain.

Pour the pasta into a large, shallow bowl, and toss with the caprese. Slowly and gradually drizzle the cooking water over the dish, about ¼ cup at a time, tossing with each addition until the ingredients are well distributed. (You probably won’t use the whole cup.) Serve with Parmesan cheese and fresh ground pepper.

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