Caprese salad is the quintessential summer dish — ripe tomatoes, fragrant basil, a drizzle of the best olive oil, fresh mozzarella — really, it’s the season in a colorful bowl.
I had fun this week riffing on this dish, taking it out of the salad bowl and into a soufflé. I also experimented with it as a potato salad, which was dee-lish. Because it is still a tad early in the season for tomatoes, I ended up roasting them before using, which, as my husband and most honest food critic commented, is not very summery. But it is a good back-pocket trick for these glorious orbs if they are less than perfect, or under/overripe.
As the harvest arrives in the coming weeks and we enjoy this glorious bounty, skip the roasting step and use the tomatoes in all their splendor.
Regular readers may recognize this simplified soufflé technique from a previous column. It is a slightly less-fluffy version, rather more-custardy, but it is significantly easier, as it does not involve separating the eggs and whipping the whites.
I used the caprese ingredients and a blend of grated mozzarella and ground Parmesan, but you could adjust this according to preference, or skip the cheese and have a pareve dish, if desired. It will be lighter and less salty without the cheese, so you may wish to add a pinch more salt to it if you go that route.
A note on the tomatoes: If they are at their peak, you can just chop them and save the juice to include in the mixture, skipping the roasting step altogether. Roasting concentrates the flavor, delivers a bit more complexity and depth to the dish and brings a jammier texture to the tomatoes, but for a summer meal, you can skip this if you want.
1 cup roasted tomatoes, with juice
1 tablespoon olive oil
A handful of basil leaves (scant ¾ cup), rinsed and sliced into ribbons
3 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
1 cup milk
Salt and pepper
¾ cup grated mozzarella cheese
¼ cup ground Parmesan cheese
Roast the tomatoes: Heat your oven to 400 degrees F. Line a baking dish with parchment and spread the rinsed tomatoes in a single layer. Drizzle them with olive oil and toss to coat. Sprinkle them lightly with salt and pepper. Roast them in your oven for about 25 minutes until the tomatoes are slightly charred, bursting and a bit jammy.
If you have more than 1 cup of less-than-perfect tomatoes lying around, double or triple this; these are delightful tossed over pasta, smeared on a sandwich or mixed into a salad.
Remove the tomatoes from the oven and lower the heat to 350 degrees F. Spray a 2-quart baking dish with oil; set aside.
In a small saucepan, melt the butter and add the flour. Mix with a whisk to form a smooth paste. When thickened, add milk and continue whisking until a uniform and creamy texture is achieved, about 2 minutes.
In a separate bowl, whisk the eggs with the cheese, tomatoes, basil, salt and pepper. Add the milk mixture, and whisk until blended. Pour the mixture into the prepared baking dish and bake for 25-30 minutes until done — the soufflé will be puffed up, the center will be solid and the edges will be slightly browned, pulling away from the pan. Serve immediately.
Caprese Potato Salad
If you read my column regularly, you are familiar with my love affair with potatoes. I am forever seeking ways to integrate these beloved roots into my daily meals. Since I had leftover roasted tomatoes and a basil plant in my garden just bursting with leaves, this seemed like a good experiment to try. And it worked! We served it with grilled chicken and a green salad, and it was a perfect summer meal.
I used red bliss potatoes because they were on sale at the supermarket, but any potato can be used here. Peel if you wish; I don’t.
8 medium-sized red bliss potatoes (a little smaller than your fist)
1½ cups roasted tomatoes with juice (see recipe above for technique)
½ cup fresh basil leaves chopped in ribbons
¼-½ teaspoon kosher salt
Generous grinding of fresh pepper
1-2 tablespoons of best-quality olive oil
Rinse the potatoes well, and cut them into bite-sized pieces. Place them in a large pot of water with a pinch of salt. Bring the water to a boil and cook for about 25 minutes until the potatoes are soft when pierced with a fork. Drain and cool. Do not add remaining ingredients to potatoes until they cool to room temperature or the basil will “cook.”
Add the tomatoes, basil, salt and pepper. Stir. If the salad seems too dry, add a tablespoon or two of olive oil. Mix again. Taste for seasoning; add salt and pepper, if needed. Serve at room temperature or chilled.