When it comes to off-the-cuff and mostly unplanned cooking, I have a tendency to do this thing that, depending on your perspective, is either a total shame or completely understandable: I don’t tell you about it. I’ll have thrown together a salad or a sandwich or some odd assortment of vegetables and couscous and made us lunch or dinner and Alex will say, “will you put this on your site?” and I’ll say “Of course not. Is there some shortage of recipes for sandwiches or roasted vegetables on the internet? Feh, it would be totally boring content.” [Yes, I actually talk like this. It’s embarrassing and I should keep to myself.]
Anyway, I made one of these Deb Dishes the other night and again snorted when Alex suggested I share it with you, until I was about three-quarters of the way done with mine and I realized that just because talking about caprese, or my own hacked version of it, isn’t exactly the height of cooking originality, doesn’t mean that someone wouldn’t enjoy eating exactly what we had in front of us.
So let’s talk about this cubed-up caprese salad I often make for barbecues or pot-lucks or whenever I want to eat something really summery without doing more than a lick of work: I dice mozzarella and tomatoes together, drain and rinse a can of white beans and toss it with a mixture of pesto (though slivered basil works in a pinch) and red wine vinegar and season it generously with salt and pepper. Sometimes I even add bits of proscuitto, if we have any around, and I’m feeling wild. Yes, revolutionary, I know.
But for me, this is more than a salad, it’s a springboard. Once you have this mix together, you can make a million different things with it and it was here — right here — that I decided to reconsider my Nobody Needs a Recipe for Caprese stance and talk it up anyway. Because there are so many places you can take this:
- Our regular: Scoop it up with toasted bread that has been drizzled with olive oil and sea salt.
- Toss 1/2-inch fresh bread cubes with olive oil and sea salt and toast them. Toss them in the salad for a petite panzanella-style salad.
- Mound some of the salad on a piece of bread, top with another. Grill on a panini press.
- Spread it on a unbaked pizza dough or flatbread and bake it at your oven’s top temperature for 10 minutes. Or toss that bread instead on the grill, because who needs to heat up the kitchen in the middle of August?
- Toss cold, boiled pasta and extra dressing in it to make a pasta salad.
- Mix boiled pasta into it and throw it in an oiled casserole dish and bake it at 375 until bubbly and golden.
- Bulk it up: Add cubes of salami or cooked chicken, bits of olives, a handful of capers, bits of red onion, chopped sundried tomatoes or drained and diced canned artichoke hearts.
Of course the beauty of the recipe as-is is that it requires no stove or oven to put together, which given the steamy, unrelenting sauna of the last two weeks ’round these here parts, explains why it’s having a Renaissance in our kitchen right now. But just when I thought another day of the dryer exhaust-like air might be the last straw, the humidity seems to have broken today, I ran several errands without needing six hours to recuperate — hallelujuah! — and I’m ready to go near that oven again. Should all go well, I’ll have not one but two new tomato-y recipes for you this week so stock up at the market; you’ll thank me later.
Cubed, Hacked Caprese
No, this is not a traditional caprese — there are beans, there’s pesto and even (gasp!) vinegar. But the flavor profile is nearly the same, with some added functionality (which makes it sound like I’m talking about an operating system, heh, and all the more fun to “hack”). Keep a container of this in the fridge and make a different lunch every day of the week with it, using the ideas above. Or eat it straight and lazily, as we do.
3/4 to 1 pound fresh mozzarella, diced into 1/2-inch cubes
1 pound peak-season tomatoes (I prefer roma for this because they’re less wet, but other varieties also work), diced into 1/2-inch cubes
1 15-ounce can white beans, drained and rinsed or 1 3/4 cups white beans that you’ve cooked fresh
1/4 cup pesto (or a handful of slivered basil plus 1/4 cup olive oil)
3 to 4 tablespoons red wine vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste
Mix and season and then reseason again to adjust to your taste. Eat at once or keep it in the fridge up to a few days (really, it will depend on how fresh your mozzarella is; the made-daily stuff is only good for a day or two, most others will last nearly a week).