Fall. Pumpkin. Leaves. Fall! Pumpkin Spice! Leaves! FALL. PUMPKIN SPICE….I get it. I really do. Fall is my absolute, unequivocal favorite season and I have been more than happy to pull on sweaters while daydreaming about the not-so-far-off time that the crisp weather that accompanies me on morning walk will last all day long. Yes, I am excited for fall.
Here’s the deal. It isn’t fall quiteyet. We are still hitting 70’s here, with strong sunlight that keep our afternoons warm (downright hot, if you couldn’t resist a sweater while getting dressed this morning. Thank goodness for chilly offices). And, while decorative gourds and sweet potatoes are showing up at the farmer’s market, the tomatoes, peaches, and melons are still overflowing. Even if I am wearing a sweater, I am not ready to kiss “summer food” goodbye. Braising and stews and soups can wait. I’m going to go eat a peach.
As well as my resistance to fall, another odd change has occurred. I’ve never been a fruit-on-salad kind of person. While I’m sure I’ve had one or two very delicious salads with strawberries in my life, and I will jump at the chance to add dried cranberries into salads; the thought of fresh fruit mixed among greens and vegetables has been less than appetizing. Occasionally, I will get a hankering for mandarin oranges on an Asian-style salad, but only with a lot of sesame dressing, tender chicken, and crunchy seeds. I have realized, however, is if the greens and lettuces are decreased and the more weighty vegetables are increased, I tend to love the fruit+vegetable combo. Add a bit of cheese and I am totally sold. I don’t know why it has taken me so long to come to this realization. I’ve been pairing fruit in meat dishes for ages: apples and pork, pineapple in asian dishes, lemons and oranges with chicken. I love the sweet+savoury profile. With this new expanse of fruit and vegetable dishes to explore, I have been happily pairing and partnering any fresh produce I can get my hands on. I have been keeping the produce raw, cold, and fresh–still distinctly in the summer season for these dishes.
On Labor Day weekend, M and I had our mothers over to catch up after
ignoring being unable to see much of them during the camp season. It was only a day after we returned from North Carolina, and after a weekend of trying new restaurants, pizza, ice cream, and road trip snacks, all I wanted was vegetables. While M took care of the short ribs, I mixed up kale salad, potatoes with mojo verde sauce, a ton of grilled veggies, and the crowning glory: this Balsamic-Peach Caprese salad. Adding peach to caprese is certainly not a new idea, but one I had avoided for a long time, given my thoughts on fruit and vegetables intermingling. But I saw it (and did not order it) on the menu at the Saxapahaw General Store and it struck a chord with me. I am so happy that I made that salad. I only had the chance to take one photo before everyone in attendance devoured it, but I will continue to make this as long as I can get my hands on peaches and tomatoes.
Caprese is one of the simplest salads to put together, yet it looks beautiful and special. Yes, I am well aware that true Caprese means tomatoes, mozzarella, basil, and just a touch of salt and olive oil. But I also love the little zing that a bit of balsamic vinegar and black pepper can add to that mix. These also compliment the peaches sweetness perfectly. Ripe peaches have the texture of the perfect tomato: where the flesh is firm and there isn’t too much of the seeds to squish and get slimy. Between the texture and the sweetness, peaches are the perfect addition to the already perfect Caprese.
A couple of slices, a sprinkle of salt, and a little drizzle of olive oil are all that separate you from this fresh, delicious salad. Be sure to use the highest quality ingredients that you can find–in such a simple salad, every ingredient shines.
Balsamic-Peach Caprese Salad
Serves: 4 | Prep time: 10 minutes | Cook time: N/A
- 4 oz fresh mozzarella
- 3-4 small or 1-2 large, firm tomatoes (I used campari)
- 1 large, ripe peach
- 1 handful of fresh basil leaves
- 2 Tbsp. high-quality olive oil
- 1 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
- Black Pepper
Thinly slice the mozzarella. I usually get an 8 oz ball and cut it in half, then slice from there. The smaller pieces of cheese are more on scale with my small campari tomatoes. (Typically, I count the slice of cheese that I end up with, so I can cut the peaches and tomatoes accordingly). Slice the tomatoes, then the peach into slightly thicker slices. Add the peaches slices to a bowl, pour the balsamic vinegar over the peaches and mix gently to coat. (This spreads the balsamic flavor through the whole dish, and, unlike drizzling the vinegar over everything, keeps the cheese white, rather than staining it brown). Layer a piece of cheese, a basil leaf, a tomato slice, and a peach slice. Repeat until all slices are organized into the pattern on the plate(s). Drizzle olive oil over the dish, then sprinkle salt and pepper. Serve cold or at room temperature. Refrigerate leftovers promptly.
If I could eat some combination of a cheese plate and charcuterie for every meal for the rest of my life, I would be happy. Its not the best of plans, if I stop to think about it long enough, but occasionally, I do give into that desire.
I can’t bring myself to cook anything during the day, at this time of the year. It’s too hot with the oven or stove on. So my lunch today (and probably tomorrow, unless I have very strong willpower) was simple: 1 ounce mozzarella cheese, 1 plum tomato, several basil leaves drizzled with balsamic vinegar and olive oil, three slices thin-cut salami, half a dozen olives, the baby potato & two stalks of asparagus from last night’s leftovers, and watermelon. Perfection.
Or, really, cooking, mostly, but I love alliteration. In between the vacations, the panic attacks, the job applications, and the last remnants of jet lag, I have still been searching out recipes and firing up my oven. Actually, when my brother left for his first year at college, and I flew across the country, I heard more complaints about my mother running out of leftovers back at home, rather than our absence.
Right before my flight out, I was ransacking the refrigerator shelves for something to eat (good choice–airport choices for real, gluten-free food were absolutely atrocious), and, accidentally discovered magic. I had made a caprese-type salad for our last potluck between shows (good choice, as the naturally gluten-free foods–caprese salad, deviled eggs, veggie trays–seemed to repel the students. Initially, I had been worried that the three gluten-free among us would be struggling to make an actual meal from the table loaded with cookies and pre-made sandwiches). The salad–cherry tomatoes, cubed mozzarella, torn basil, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper–leftovers had been marinating double for a day in the fridge.
I had put on the last of my beloved quinoa pasta onto boil (must find more!) and settled down to chop some fresh vegetables to run through it for an easy, light lunch. I was about three slices in when I remember the tomato salad in the tupperware. It made my life easier, but I hadn’t imagined how fantastic it would taste. I still chopped a little bit of red onion, and some black olives. When the pasta was cooked, I added the new veggies, the leftover veggies, and some goat cheese from the farmer’s market…It was heaven. Really just amazing! Between the cold vegetables and the hot pasta and balsamic vinegar (my newest and lasting obsession), all the textures and temperatures and tastes melded to a tangy, refreshing, delightful dish. It was the best send-off I could have imagined.
Vegas meant no cooking, and, truth be told, as we neared the end of the week, I really missed it. Its become a time to recharge, to focus in on vegetables, flours, and fruit. Its an easy way to let go of the greater concerns in my life and have a break (and it usually results in something delicious). Needless to say, I was back in front of the stove. My aunt was in town right after I return to the east coast, to move my cousin into school, and my mother was asking for enchiladas. And by enchiladas, I do mean this recipe straight from the back of the container of Philedelphia’s new Santa Fe blend Cooking Creme. I also tried my hand at Pan de Bono from Nicole at GF on a Shoestring.
Attention world: this bread is amazing. And easy. I need to find some super-cheap queso fresco (not that my local store’s is really all that expensive) because I could (and would) make these rolls every day.
Naturally gluten-free, the cheese in this bread makes it dense and almost buttery. Or at least it tricked my tastebuds into guessing butter as I tried to place the rich flavor. My mother compared these, appropriately, to popovers. While I’ve had limited success in creating gf imitations, I haven’t been able to match that fluffy, chewy, buttery-eggy quality that gluten-filled popovers have. Pan de Bono comes pretty close, in a denser, heartier way. Its super simple! The dough was easy to handle, and the whole recipe came together in a matter of minutes. Everyone should try these rolls. They have Recipe Box Status.
In and amongst these particular triumphs was some flat (but still tasty) french bread, and a lot of quinoa. And a life-changing shepherd’s pie that will get its own post in the next few days. Keep an eye out!