Sometimes I get the urge to stick my face right into a tomato plant and SNIFF. While fuzzy little stems tickle my cheeks and catterpillars build cocoons in my hair I'm transported back to my childhood. Following my great-grandpa around his massive vegetable garden was my all-time favorite summer hobby. I loved everything about it. The dirt, the bugs, the sunshine. Any excuse to get my hands dirty, really. Heather and I spent many a summer afternoon slopping together dirt, water and grass trimmings in pursuit of the perfect mud pie. "Helping" our Poppy garden could be a messy endeavor. To me, Tomato leaves smell like mud pies and garden hoses, grasshoppers, and everything else that made life worth living at six years old.
Not all tomatoes can spirit me away like that. It takes a truly special tomato to ignite my senses, and heirlooms are where it's at. Those big, juicy, sort of ugly monster tomatoes are the perfect balance of sweet and sour. I love them. My idea of heaven is salt, pepper, and a big fat heirloom tomato.
This summer we were blessed with loads of tomatoes and heaping piles of super smelly basil from our CSA. It wasn't too long before caprese style salad made it into the rotation. Salads don't get a whole lot simpler than this. Serve this up with some nice, crusty French bread and you'll be happy. Just don't skimp on the tomatoes. Splurge on a couple of big, beautiful heirlooms just for this purpose. Sure, you can make this salad with plain tomatoes, but you'll kind of be missing out.
Heirloom Caprese Salad
Serves about 4
- 1 tablespoon ketchup
- 1 tablespoon mustard
- 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
- 1 pinch cayenne pepper
- salt and pepper, to taste
- 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning (or a mixture of dried basil, oregano, thyme, and rosemary)
- up to 1/4 cup olive oil
- 2 large heirloom tomatoes, cut into large chunks
- 4 cups fresh lettuce, chopped or torn into bite size pieces
- 1 bunch basil, rinsed and removed from stems
- 8 ounces fresh mozzarella
- Combine the ketchup, mustard, vinegar, and seasonings in a bowl. Whisk to combine. Then, while whisking continuously, add the olive oil in a slow, steady stream. Beat the hell out of it until it emulsifies into a thick, delicious looking dressing. Taste, then add salt and pepper as needed.
- In a big salad bowl, toss together the lettuce, basil, and tomato. You can also include other salad-friendly veggies, like cucumber or bell peppers.
- Drain the mozzarella, then sprinkle it liberally with salt and pepper. Toss the salad with the dressing, then top it with the mozzarella.
- Eat right away!