I think it’s safe to say that summer is finally winding down. Last week I thought it was, but she gave us the old fake out and now we’re still encountering 80 and above weather. Oh, well. That just means that fall will start and end later, if all goes according to plan- my plan being controlling the tri-state area weather. Obviously.
Anyway, when I look back on all of my summers, they all have some things in common: they’ve all taken place on Long Island (for the most part), they’ve all involved at least one dip in a salty ocean and/or chlorinated pool, and they’ve all included caprese salad. Caprese salad is simply sliced tomatoes, mozzarella, and basil, drizzled with olive oil, salt and pepper, and sometimes balsamic vinegar, depending on who’s making it. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that my grandma made this for us every time that we came over in the summer, or at least it felt like she did. She’s not Italian, but she lived in an Italian neighborhood for most of her life so she picked up some delicious traditions, this included. The house that she and my grandpa owned wasn’t on the water, but for some reason (probably their amazing amount of lighthouse themed paraphernalia), it felt oceanic. I think I sometimes pretended I was on a ship while I was there. They also had a pool, so maybe that contributed to the water vibe. Who really knows. But caprese salad encompasses all of those memories for me.
Since I *tragically* cannot eat the traditional version, I decided to try mixing it up by replacing the tomatoes with watermelon. They’re relatively similar in texture; the biggest difference is that watermelon is tremendously sweet and bursts with liquid, whereas tomatoes straddle the vegetable-fruit border (though yes, they are really considered fruit).
This salad (you can call it an insalate if you’d like to stick with the Italian theme, or if you feel like being pretentious) is perfect for a barbecue, or an indoor appetizer on a hazy summer evening. I can’t say I’ll miss much about summer, but I will miss after dinner walks on the beach, sitting on my stoop eating ice cream sandwiches and drinking lemonade, and the refreshing smell of air conditioned air hitting my face after emerging from the swamp-like outdoors. But those sentiments aside, BRING ON DA AUTUMN.
1/4 medium sized watermelon, cubed into 1 inch chunks
6-8 large basil leaves, torn
8 oz. “cherry sized” mozzarella balls, drained and cut in half (get the ones that are packed in water, not olive oil)
2 tbsp. olive oil
1/2 cup good balsamic vinegar
1 pinch of table salt
Put the cubed watermelon in a strainer. Place the strainer in a larger bowl. Toss the watermelon with the pinch of salt. Let sit for 30 minutes.
In a small pan over medium-high heat, warm the balsamic vinegar. Add the reserved watermelon juice from the bowl underneath the strainer for sweetness. If it’s still not sweet enough for your taste, add a tsp of honey. Allow the vinegar-juice mixture to become syrupy, then remove from heat.
Take the watermelon cubes out of the strainer and put in a serving bowl. Add the mozzarella and basil, and toss with the olive oil. DO NOT add salt as you would with tomato caprese; the salt and the watermelon do not mix well. They are not friends. They should stay far apart. Drizzle with the reduced balsamic to your liking– take note that though sweeter than regular balsamic, this reduction is quite strong, so use very sparingly. Serve ASAP.