What should we talk about today? Should it be the weather, specifically the derecho that hailed over NYC on Thursday? (Don’t worry, I was prepared — I wore pants.) But nothing really happened and I didn’t end up baking anything, so not much to say there.
Or we could talk about the Olympics, aka the only thing I will be paying attention to for the next two weeks. My new favorite sport: racewalking. Finally something I could possibly compete at in the Olympics! But I really need to work on my hip action and the event hasn’t started yet, so let’s wait a few days on that.
So … let’s talk about Mexico, specifically a personal challenge I made on the flight over: to eat anything and everything that was put on my plate. The trip really tested my mettle: I tried everything from octopus ceviche (surprisingly not that bad — proof that fresh seafood really does make a difference) to tacos de cabeza (beef cheek tacos, a bite of which was delicious, but a whole one would be a little much) to a host of fresh tomatoes, part a Mexican caprese salad that was one of the best things I ate during my weekend.
Topped with balsamic, fresh basil, rock salt and cubes of salty queso panela, the salad was salty, a little sweet, slightly acidic, with the firm cheese, tender tomatoes and crunch from the salt — perfect on so many counts. Turns out, when tomatoes are
masked by paired with delicious things, tomatoes are not all that bad.
It’s a lesson I took to heart, creating a version of that caprese bulked out with cubes of crusty bread, briny olives and sweet, crunchy bell peppers. Added to colorful heirloom tomatoes from the farmer’s market, pearl-sized rounds of fresh mozzarella (called perlini, from Whole Foods), plenty of fresh basil and a heavy pour of balsamic, this panzanella, or Italian bread salad, becomes a hearty summertime meal that tastes even better the next day. AND it got me to eat tomatoes. Definitely something to talk about.
Makes 6-8 servings
As a 20-something on an embarrassingly limited budget, I would never tell you to go out and get 20-year-aged vinegar or gray salt. But this is one recipe where quality ingredients can really shine, so if you’ve got good balsamic or kosher salt or special peppercorns on hand, use it!
- 1 day-old multigrain baguette, torn into bite-size pieces
- 1/2 red onion, sliced thinly
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 bell pepper, cut into small strips
- 1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
- 4 ounces fresh mozzarella — you can either cube a ball of fresh mozz, halve bocconcini pieces, or I found pearl-sized balls at Whole Foods
- 15-20 leaves fresh basil, torn into small pieces
- 4 ounces pitted green olives
- 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons (optional) balsamic vinegar
- salt and pepper, to taste
1) Preheat the oven to 400. Arrange the bread cubes in a single layer on a lined baking sheet and bake for 20 minutes, turning the tray halfway. Remove from heat and cool.
2) While the bread is toasting up, toss the onions, garlic, peppers, tomatoes, mozzarella, basil and olives in a large bowl. Set aside.
3) In a small bowl, mix the olive oil with 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar and the salt and pepper. Drizzle over the reserved vegetables, and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
4) When the bread cubes are cooled, add them to the vegetable mixture, and toss well to coat evenly. Drizzle the additional two tablespoons of balsamic vinegar on top (if desired). Serve room temperature or cold.