Watermelon Caprese Salad

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.

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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.

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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.

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INGREDIENTS:

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

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DIRECTIONS:

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.

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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.

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Enjoy!

Leslie

Balsamic and Basil Strawberries

I’ve loved balsamic vinegar since I was a kid. When I was four, I used to dunk raw heads of broccoli into a small glass bowl filled with the stuff. My mom said I was the only kid she ever heard of who liked vinegar that much. Even now, it’s one of my favorite condiments; it’s tangy but there’s enough sweetness to balance the strong acidity.

For my mom’s birthday tea, I made Kahlua-whipped cream filled strawberries with turbinado sugar sprinkled on top. I enjoy Kahlua, but it invokes more of a cozy, wintertime feeling than I would want to experience right now (current temp in NYC: 84 degrees, F… humidity: the papers in my desk feel moist to the touch, as do the multigrain crackers residing in my cabinet). Thus, I opted against making Kahlua strawberries this go around, and decided instead to make more savory and refreshing balsamic-whipped cream filled strawberries with a basil garnish to fulfill the savory flavor profile of the balsamic cream.

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The first time I tried whipping the cream in my hot, sticky apartment, it collapsed a few whips away from being finished, partially because of the heat, and partially because I added too much vinegar too close to the end; I think the acidity cut the fat. Expletives were yelled. Fists were brandished. I put my sweat-tainted shirt back on (yes, I was working in a sports bra with a fan aimed directly at my sweltering, cream whipping bod), and trekked back to the store. This time, I bought not one, but two pints of heavy cream, in case the same thing happened again.

I got back to my apartment and with newfound determination and beads of sweat running down my forearms, whipped the cream successfully. When I went to put the cream in my piping bag, I discovered that something atrocious had happened to it, which I shan’t get into. Anyhow, I opted to use a spoon to insert the cream into the hulled strawberries rather than spend my afternoon searching West Harlem for a new pastry tool.

If you don’t mess up the cream like I initially did, these strawberries are very easy to make, and are great for a savory dessert or appetizer on a hot summer day. With that said, they’re best served cool, or the cream will become watery. I know this firsthand because I tried to bring some downtown to my friend Melissa, and they melted on the subway. She still ate them, which I love her for.

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INGREDIENTS:

1 pound strawberries, washed and hulled

1/2 packet gelatin, dissolved in a few tbsp of boiling water, at room temp (whisk with a fork as soon as you add the water so it doesn’t become lumpy)

3 basil leaves, cut into ribbons

1 tbsp balsamic vinegar (the sweeter the better)

1 tbsp confectioner’s sugar

1/2 pint heavy cream

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DIRECTIONS:

Chill a mixing bowl and a whisk in the freezer for at least an hour.

Pour the cooled gelatin-water mixture into the mixing bowl. Add the confectioner’s sugar, balsamic, and cream. Whisk until soft peaks form. Using a metal teaspoon, dollop about a tablespoon into the core of each strawberry. Top the cream with a basil ribbon. Serve immediately.

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Enjoy!

Leslie

Simply Delicious Crostini

Sometimes I find myself surrounded by remnants of meals past; some mozzarella and basil from that lasagne I made, some tomatoes from that sauce I cooked, some bread from me eating that loaf of bread… you get the picture. I hate throwing out food since it’s wasteful and not cost effective, but it can be hard to concoct a meal out of leftovers. How are you supposed to find a recipe that uses everything you have laying around your kitchen? Often, you can’t, but if you only have to run out and  buy one new thing in order to make a recipe that involves most of your leftovers, why not?

I came up with this crostini recipe when I saw that an old loaf of Italian bread was about to be thrown out. I looked around and saw that we had some tomatoes, which we normally keep in the house to put in salads, and some basil leaves from our basil plant out back. I had never made crostinis before, but one of my classmates had made them recently, so I had a rough idea of what making them entailed. Luckily, I discovered that cooking crostinis is very simple. As long as you don’t burn the bread (which I’m sure you won’t), there’s not much that can go wrong. Since this recipe was intended as a way to use leftovers, I left the ingredient amounts loose so that you can adjust it to fit your pantry.

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INGREDIENTS:

 One loaf of few-day-old Italian bread

Olive oil

Kalamata olives

A couple of small-medium sized tomatoes (not cherry tomatoes)

Mozzarella cheese (fresh is always preferable, but feel free to use prepackaged like I did here)

Feta cheese

3-4 torn basil leaves

Garlic salt (if you don’t have garlic salt, you can use a pinch of garlic powder and coarse salt)

Pepper

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Slice bread into 1/4 inch slices. Brush both sides of each slice with olive oil so that the middle appears yellow and slightly moist- no need to drench them! Sprinkle each side with garlic salt and pepper.

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Lay the crostini on a baking sheet (or two, depending on how many you’re making). Put crostini in the oven for about 15 minutes, or until they no longer appear moist and the crust is a deeper brown than when you put them in. Let cool for a few minutes on the baking sheet(s).

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Chop the kalamata olives and mix with feta cheese. Take half of the bread off of the baking sheet(s) and top with kalamata-feta mixture. Set aside.

Cut tomatoes so that each piece is no larger than the size of a nickel. Do the same with the mozzarella. There should be about the same amount of mozzarella and tomatoes. Tear the basil leaves and mix with the tomato-mozzarella mixture. Put on top of the remaining crostini.

Combine both types of crostini on a serving plate, and sprinkle with a few pinches of pepper.

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Enjoy!

Leslie