Caprese salad means summer to me. There is something extraordinary about fresh in-season tomatoes, basil picked from the garden, and mozzarella served on a platter and eaten outside. It is so fresh and simple. Perfection. A meal onto itself. At least for me. I could eat one every day.
On my bucket list is to tour Italy on my stomach. The food traditions of a country can tell you a lot about the country. I want to experience a Caprese in a beach-side restaurant. The salad is beloved in Italy. It originates from Campania on Italy’s southwest coast. Different origin tales abound. To be patriotic, it incorporates the colors of Italy’s flag: red, white, and green. The other story is that it was created for a 1930s Futuris dinner by the chef of a hotel on the island of Capri.
What makes a Caprese salad so special?
First, it is the simple ingredients: tomatoes, basil, mozzarella, oil olive, and salt. The ingredients must be the freshest you can find. All ingredients are essential, but tomatoes are key. Seek out your local farmer’s market or farm stand for your tomatoes. The next ingredient is mozzarella. Fresh mozzarella is the best. Bypass the dry, rubbery stuff. I’m lucky we have Italian delis on the island, such as Bottega Bocconi and Mozz, where I can get the highest quality mozzarella. Next, invest in good-quality olive oil to drizzle over your tomatoes, mozzarella, and basil. While researching for this post, I found that it is not traditional to drizzle balsamic vinegar on the salad—something I’ve been doing for years. The only dressing should be olive oil. Next Caprese salad I make, I will dress it with just olive oil to see how it will taste the “proper” way.
Deconstructed Caprese Salad
With my deconstructed Caprese salad, I threw tradition out the window. I used mozzarella pearls, multi-colored cherry tomatoes, torn basil, and lettuce with a simple balsamic dressing. Also, I broke my own rules on a Caprese salad and everything came from BJs. I tossed it all together, and that’s it. The lettuce bulked up the salad, making it more of a meal salad. Two thumbs up from my guys.
Yet anyway. I used dairy mozzarella for this recipe. I wasn’t brave enough to seek out plant-based mozzarella. But I am planning on it. I really like Miyoko’s products. Their vegan butters are as good as diary butter. They offer vegan mozzarella. I will try to find it locally to try it.
Are you looking for more salads? Go here.
Homemade Small Batch Dill Pickles
After my success in making picked red onions, I decided to seek out a recipe for refrigerator dill pickles. I grew up with Kosher dill pickles. The old-school delis and grocery delis all had barrels filled with Kosher dill pickles. Big, fat juicy ones. The barrels had clear plastic lids with thongs that you used to dive for pickles. It was like a games as if you could get the pickle wanted. Every kid walked around the story with a pickle in a waxed paper bag. It was a treat.
Picky about Pickles
I like dill pickles, but I’m picky about them. They have to have natural flavor and be crispy. Not be overly sweet or salty. It is an art form to make good dill pickles. I found a recipe for a small batch of pickles. While I wanted to try to make pickles, I didn’t want to waste food by making 5 jars to find out it isn’t too my liking. Super simple to make, just boil water, white vinegar, sugar and sea salt then combine thick cucumber slices, garlic clove, fresh dill, and a punch of crushed red pepper in a jar. Add the cooled liquid mixture to the jar, seal and give a good shake. Pop it in the fridge for 2 days before eating. It is the longest weight. I use regular and/or English cucumbers; whatever I have on hand. They work great. The refrigerator dill pickles taste great on their own, but they are yummy on a veggie burger.
Refrigerator Dill Pickles
- 3 tablespoons and 1 teaspoons and ½ teaspoon water
- 1 tablespoon and ¾ teaspoon white vinegar
- 1 teaspoons and ½ teaspoon sugar
- 1 teaspoons and ½ teaspoon sea salt
- ¼ cup cucumber slices
- 1 cloves garlic, whole
- 1 heads fresh dill
- Dash of crushed red pepper flakes
- 1. Stir water, vinegar, sugar, and sea salt together in a saucepan over high heat. Bring to a boil; remove from heat and cool completely.
- 2. Combine cucumber, garlic cloves, and fresh dill in a large glass container. Pour cooled vinegar mixture over cucumber mixture. Seal container with lid and refrigerate for at least 3 days.
Your Sammie’s Best Friend, Pickled Red Onions
Pickled red onions are my latest food addiction. It is interesting how your tastes changes as we age and change diets. Since I’ve gone plant-based and eliminated most processed sugars and foods, my taste buds have went crazy. My body craves crunchy and strong flavored foods like pickled foods. I never was a pickled kind of person outside of a Kosher pickle and sauerkraut and they were to be paired with certain foods. A very rigid way of looking at food, but that’s how many of us were brought up.
Eating plant-based I find is all about the condiments. Flavor, color, and texture is encouraged. Condiments play a huge role in layering the flavors of your sandwich. My taste buds rejoice in this new way.
That’s where pickled red onions come into play. Don’t ask me why I started craving them then decided to make them out of the blue. But I’m glad I did. They make sandwiches and salads so much better. I put them on veggies burgers, hash browns, and hummus pitas. They add a crunch with sweet, and sour flavors. My guys enjoy them, too.
Red onion pickles are addictive. And it is a good thing they are so easy to make. In fact, I’m just wondering if you can even buy them in the store. I’ve never seen them. Outside of the pickled pearl onions and olives… hmm… something to think about. Any way as my mind wanders to filling jars of pickled red onions to sell as the farmer’s market, let’s get back to making them.
Making Red Pickled Onions
The idea of pickling things made me nervous. The only person I knew who pickled and fermented was my friend Eric and he is a master of the craft. As a going away present form North Carolina, he presented me with a wonderful jar of Moroccan preserved lemons. While I tried to pickle green beans a couple years ago and it was disaster, Eric encouraged me to keep trying. Through his positive vibes, I decided to make the pickled onions.
This recipe came from Gimme Some Oven. What drew me to it was two things: it was quick and a sweetener option was maple syrup. Only five ingredients and 35 minutes you can have red pickled onions for your sammies or burgers. All you need is a clean glass jar, large red onion, apple cider vinegar, sea salt, water, and maple syrup. That’s it. I use Newport Sea Salt; because it is a locally made product by a veteran-founded, family-run small business. I use my mortar and pestle to grind the salt finely for this recipe and my vegan hazelnut spread.
While you could eat it after 30 minutes of chilling in the fridge, I recommend you wait a day. The wait will be worth it.
- 1 large red onion
- 3/4 cup apple cider vinegar
- 1/4 cup water
- 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
- 1–2 tablespoons maple syrup
- 1. Peel and thinly slice a large red onion.
- 2. Stir together the vinegar, water, salt and maple syrup cooking over medium-high heat until the mixture reaches a simmer.
- 3. Fill the jar with the thinly-sliced onions then pour the hot vinegar mixture over the onions, screw on the lid, and shake the onions briefly until they are evenly coated with the vinegar mixture.
- 4. Let the onions marinate for 30 minutes. (You may need to press the onions down with a spoon so that they are all submerged under the vinegar mixture.)
- Serve immediately, or refrigerate the onions in a sealed container for up to 2 weeks.
Dump the Bottled Ranch Dressing
Once you make ranch dressing from scratch, you will never buy it from the store again. There is something creamy, tangy, and just so fresh tasting about it. Simple ingredients that most have in their pantry: mayo, sour cream, milk, lemon, salt, ground pepper, and dried herbs. That’s it. In less than five minutes you can have homemade ranch dressing that will keep up to a week in the fridge on hand for veggies, salads, and chicken. It is so good, it won’t last a week.
You can use dried or fresh herbs. I used herbs from my garden. Don’t be afraid to pack it with herbs for a robust flavor. Sea salt is great for this dressing, but Kosher will work. I use local sea salt by Newport Salt Company. It is worth investing in quality ingredients.
Try Basil Buttermilk dressing or basic Italian vinaigrette.
- 1/2 cup mayo
- 1/2 cup sour cream
- 1/2 cup regular milk or buttermilk
- 1 teaspoon fresh or dried dill weed
- 1/2 teaspoon fresh or dried parsley
- 1/2 teaspoon fresh or dried chives
- 1/4 teaspoon onion powder
- 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
- 1/8 teaspoon finely ground pepper
- freshly squeezed lemon juice
- Mix mayo, sour cream, and milk together in bowl with a whisk.
- Add herbs mixing finishing off with the lemon juice.
- Keep in the fridge in an airtight container.
Don’t Waste, Make Apple Sauce
We buy bulk organic apples. They are great to have on hand for quick and easy snacks. Sometimes we aren’t the best at eating them in a timely matter. They tend to start going soft making them not great to grab and go. While we could put them in the compost bin, I usually make apple sauce instead. Why waste them when you still can create something yummy?
Let’s talk about waste.
Turns out the wasting of food is a global problem. According to the World Food Program USA, nearly one-third of all food produced each year is spoiled before it can be consumed. It is noted that between 30 to 40 percent of the US food supply is wasted. That comes out to be roughly 20 pounds of food per person per month. Yes, 20 pounds per person per month. That’s shocking to me, but yet I can see that happening.
I try to use everything I buy especially fresh produce, but more times than I’d like to admit, a lot of it goes into the compost bin. I am embarrassed by this and I need to change how I meal plan and shop. We try to do the right thing with having a compost bin to cut down on what is going to the landfill and a rain barrel to collect water to use on plants.
I buy too much food. It is so easy to do so in the US with prepackaged produce and retail warehouse clubs. I go into these places with good intentions that I’m going to make this or that. And, well, the making of the meal doesn’t happen. I’m usually good at making something else, but sometimes the produce gets stuck in my veg bin.
Changing how I shop.
I need to change how I plan meals and shop. Going to the grocery store once a week is really convenient. We lead busy lives. I work part-time, run a business, go to graduate school, and volunteer outside of being a wife and mother. I need to make cutting food waste a priority. Not only for the planet but our budget. We’re on a tight budget right now so food wasted is money wasted.
I’ve tried to meal plan, but my changes taste on a daily basis. I look forward to dinner every night. That is the highlight of my food day so I have to really want it. And often meals changes as my taste of something does. It is hard to explain. I should do groceries every other day and pick loose produce over the pre-packaged.
Back to the Apple Sauce
Now back to the apple sauce. It is very easy and quick to do. Peel and chop the apples then add them to a pot with water, sugar, and cinnamon cooking until apples are soft. It doesn’t matter what kind of apples. I just use what I have on hand which is usually Gala apples. You can cut down on the sugar if you’d like just maybe add more cinnamon to keep the flavor high.
If you like the apple sauce, try the Cranberry Chutney.
- 4 apples cored, peeled, and chopped
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 3/4 cup water
- 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
- Place apples in sauce pan with sugar, water, and cinnamon.
- Stir until mixed.
- Cook over medium heat until apples are soft usually 20-30 minutes.
- Store in glass jar in fridge.
Nothing Beats Homemade Gnocchi
Being Irish with the DNA test to show I have no southern European genes, pasta came out of a box and the sauce from a jar growing up. Fresh pasta was unknown. In the late 70s and early 80s, my mom learned how to make tomato sauce and meatballs from our Italian-American neighbors who wanted to share their love of food with us. That was the beginning of the love of Italian food.
Fast forward 30 or so years, I got the nerve to make pasta. I have been making my own sauces for years so it shouldn’t be too much of a leap for me to make my own pasta. Gnocchi is a versatile pasta working with many different sauces and soups. It is a potato dumpling.
The Gnocchi Process
Gnocchi is easy to make if you follow the recipe. There is a process to this humble food. Make it a family affair getting kids in involved in making their dinner.
Here is the low down on making them:
- The potatoes are key. Boil them with their skins on until fork tender about 20 minutes. This helps the potato not to absorb access water. Remember dry potatoes are good and water potatoes are bad. Over-boiling the potatoes causes them to become mushy.
- Invest in a potato ricer. I wish I did. I mashed my potatoes and they weren’t fine enough leaving the gnocchi lumpy.
- When you go knead the dough, be careful not to over-knead. Also be careful at this point of adding flour. By adding too much flour will give you hard gnocchi.
Maybe I will attempt to make another type of pasta.
Gnocchi Making in Photos
- - 2 1/2 lbs. of potato, approx. 4 lg. potatoes
- - 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, 1/2 cup or more for working dough
- - 1/2 tsp. salt
- - 1 egg
- - Boil potatoes with their skins on a large pot with just enough water to cover them, boil potatoes with their skins on for about 20 minutes or until fork tender. Don't over-boiling will cause potatoes to become mushy and too wet.
- - Drain the potatoes well allowing them to cool in a colander.
- - Peel the potatoes removing any brown spots that might be below the skin.
- - Using a potato ricer, rice the peeled potatoes.
- - Mound riced potato on the middle of a wooden board or a clean, dry countertop. Top with flour.
- - Sprinkle with salt.
- - Make a well using your hands, scoop out the center of your mound.
- - Add the egg into the center of the well the beat the egg with a fork.
- - Incorporate ingredients using the fork, slowly start to pull in flour and potato to mix ingredients.
- - Begin to form the dough using your.
- - Knead the dough by pulling together ingredients and knead to form dough. Be careful not to over-knead. Be weary of adding flour at this point. Too much flour will give you hard gnocchi.
- - Shape the dough into a long, wide rectangle for cutting.
- - Cut dough into 8-10 pieces, about 4 inches long.
- - Roll into ropes by gently pushing with fingers spread.
- - Cut dough ropes using a pastry cutter or non-serrated knife into 1-inch pieces then cut ends at an angle.
- - Ridges or indents using a fork to create ridges or indent gently with your thumb.
- - Cook the gnocchi until they float to the top in a pot of boiling water for about 2-4 minutes. Gently remove them with a slotted spoon, drain very well. Toss them in a saucepan with your favorite sauce and cook together for about 2 minutes.