Meatless Monday: Caprese Stacks

Hello from New York City! After lots of family time on Long Island, I escaped on the train and have been enjoying a little bit of time with friends in the Big Apple. Highlight so far (besides their amazing rooftop lounge…amazing views!) is definitely meeting Zachary Levi. Ummm he is most definitely in my top 3 celebrity crushes. I walked around the rest of the day saying “oh my god…oh my god…” and “Hey Alex, remember that time when Zachary Levi touched my shoulder?” Haha. I never want to leave!

Aaaaanyway…a few weeks ago, I was planning on heading over to a friend’s house to hang out with da guys, and our host was planning on BBQing a lot of meat. I decided, since I had just picked up lots of produce at the Farmers Market, that I would bring something fresh and healthy. With beautiful heirloom tomatoes and a basil plant at my disposal, Caprese Salad was the obvious choice!

DSC_0686

I know Caprese Salad isn’t exactly the most novel side dish (vegan Caprese? That’s another story! 😉 ), but it is seriously the ultimate summer salad.

Unfortunately, those plans fell through and I didn’t end up going to hang out with the guys. But I had already made the Caprese stacks…

DSC_0685

Guess what Katie ate for dinner that night? 😉

In my opinion, making them in stack form instead of the typical salad makes them a finger food – just shovel ’em into your mouth like a tomato-mozzarella-basil finger sandwich! Totally socially acceptable.

Caprese Stacks

2 heirloom tomatoes (or similar meaty tomato…you don’t want lots of seeds and water!)
8 oz fresh mozzarella cheese
~15 basil leaves
1 cup balsamic vinegar
drizzle olive oil (optional)

Put balsamic vinegar in a small saucepan over medium heat. Let it simmer at a low boil for about 15 minutes, until reduced down to about 1/4 cup. Set aside to cool.

While balsamic is simmering, slice tomatoes into 1/2 inch slices. Discard the rounded ends. Slice mozzarella into similarly-sized rounds. (Pro tip: if you are having trouble cutting the mozzarella, stick it in the freezer for a bit to make it less soft!)

ASSEMBLE! Layer one tomato slice, a basil leaf, mozzarella, and another basil leaf (if desired). Repeat with all the tomaters. To top it all off, drizzle the cooled balsamic vinegar (which will now be more like a glaze/syrup) over the stacks, as well as a couple of drops of olive oil.

Meatless Monday: Ratatouille

It all started at the farmers market on Thursday. I saw eggplant, and an idea popped into my head.

French cooking had been on my mind, as I had recently read the Julia Child article I shared on Friday and am hoping to convince T-Man to take a French vacation with me when his campaign is over. When I studied in France for a year, I sadly didn’t learn much in the way of cooking my own French cuisine. My diet consisted mostly of baguette and cheese, rice casseroles, or whatever weird crème fraîche “pizza” I could make with store-bought pâte brisée.

The idea that popped into my head was the one and only French dish I learned to cook well when I lived in France: Ratatouille.

Though it hails from the South (I lived in Lyon, which is known for its own special regional cuisine), it’s a widely consumed and easily customizable dish. I often describe it to people as “French salsa” because of its chunky consistency. Essentially, it’s a vegetable stew with tomato, eggplant, zucchini and bell pepper. I’ve served it over rice and pasta before, but because I was going to a barbecue on Friday, I decided to make it into a snackable appetizer (with the help of a crusty baguette)!

(one-handed biking with a large baguette…don’t tell my doctor!)

Usually, I stew everything in one giant pot. But because last Wednesday would have been Julia Child’s 100th birthday (and I’m becoming slightly obsessed with her, can you tell?) I decided to take a look at her Ratatouille recipe to unlock any secrets. Besides the fact that she bakes hers in a casserole in the oven – which you couldn’t pay me to do with the weather these days – the biggest difference was that she cooks the vegetables separately.

Thanks for the tip, Jules. Voilà my recette for ratatouille!

Ratatouille
adapted from marmiton.org
serves 4-5

1 small/medium eggplant
1 zucchini
2 bell peppers (one red, one green if you can)
2 tomatoes
1 small onion
1-2 cloves garlic
olive oil
salt & pepper
1 tsp thyme

Notes: This recipe also calls for chopped black olives, which I have included before but didn’t this time. I prefer not to remove the skin from the vegetables, but you might. Also, I forgot to add an onion in the pictures you’ll see 🙂

Heat up olive oil in one large pan over medium heat (a pot might be better here, as you’ll be adding in the eggplant and zucchini so it should be large) and add onions. Saute until translucent (about 1-2 minutes). Then, add peppers and cook until soft, another 1-2 minutes. Finally, add in diced tomatoes with all their juices. Keep at medium-low heat and stir occasionally for a few minutes. Then add garlic, salt and pepper to taste. Keep at a low simmer.

While tomato mixture is simmering, prepare another pan by heating more olive oil over medium heat. Add zucchini and eggplant cubes. Saute only until the cubes are browned all around, 2 minutes or so. Remove from heat and add this mixture into the other pot, stirring to coat. Add thyme and let everything simmer and stew for 10-15 more minutes, until all the vegetables are tender.

Serve warm over rice or pasta, or spoon onto slices of baguette.

Bon appetit!