Amy’s Food Flights is now Breakfast, Lynch & Dinner!

I’m back, with a new name!!! Let’s get this party re-started….

Made my weekly pilgrimage to the Broad Ripple Farmers Market yesterday, and here’s what we ate… a soft pretzel with cheese for dipping washed down with a lemon shake-up has become the kiddo’s standard summer Saturday morning breakfast.

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Yesterday, we had a buddy along for the ride. After their breakfast of champions, I was able to shop long enough to purchase a few gorgeous heirloom tomatoes and a slab of Tulip Tree Creamery fresh mozzarella to fix myself a Caprese salad at home. Just look at these beauties… IMG_2194.jpgCan’t say enough good things about the Broad Ripple Farmers Market. Always friendly vendors, great products, tons of cute dogs, and we usually run into people we know. See you there next week!!!

Can't go wrong with Caprese

Caprese salad might just be the perfect food. Ripe juicy tomatoes, fresh creamy mozzarella, a few leaves of bracing basil — what’s not to like? It’s unprocessed, it’s delicious, and it’s relatively healthy. A little s&p, maybe a drizzle of olive oil… boom. Perfection on a plate.

an impromptu Caprese sandwich

I grew to love Caprese salads — or insalata Caprese — in Italy, as you do, and in Germany of all unexpected places. During our visits these past few years, my standard lunch order abroad has been a Caprese sandwich — said salad on a thick wedge of crusty toothsome bread. It’s easy to find, readily available on nearly every menu and at every bake shop counter.

If you want to look like a rock star in the kitchen, put together a Caprese salad or sandwich and see what kind of compliments you receive. The only way you can really mess up this dish is by using sub-par ingredients. Like most Italian food, it relies on quality tomatoes and cheese, dressed just barely or not at all to let the true flavors shine through. When you start with high quality building blocks like this, you don’t have to hide them under a sauce or mask them with a dressing.

Caprese salad is pretty enough to serve at a fancy dinner party, or simple enough to toss together for a quick lunch (as I did yesterday). A few tips – get the best tomatoes you can find, and don’t refrigerate them; this makes the texture mealy and blunts the flavor. If you can pick them straight out of your garden and serve them still warm from the sun, all the better. I’ve had great luck with farmers’ market products this summer as well.

On to the cheese. Who doesn’t like mozzarella cheese? Again, go for the best quality you can find and afford, although I often just buy a ball of the stuff at Marsh or Kroger in the deli section when it’s on sale. (The smoked mozzarella is a nice alternative on occasion.)

I’ve had a bumper crop of basil in my patio planter this year, but if you must buy it at the store, look for fresh snappy leaves with no bruises. Store the herb upright in a tall glass in the fridge with just enough water in it to barely submerge the stems.

When it’s time to put it all together, slice the cheese and the tomatoes into widths of equal size. Layer the slices on a plate or platter, alternating for color contrast. Scatter a few whole basil leaves over on top, or tear them into small pieces with your fingers. If you want to be really fancy, you can chiffonade your basil. Don’t freak out and panic when I say “chiffonade;” it just means you roll up the leaves into a little cigar shape and slice them into cute thin ribbons.

Whoomp, there it is. If you like, you can drizzle the salad with a little good quality olive oil. I sometimes like to add a tiny bit of balsamic vinegar for flavor, but that’s just me. You can also cube the cheese and tomato, put it in a bowl, mix in the basil and olive oil, then spoon the mixture over grilled chicken or pasta. Add some kalamata olives, or perhaps a few garlic croutons. Or, throw in slices of avocado. Heck – go crazy.

It goes without saying that Caprese’s best served in summer, when produce is at its peak ripeness, but it makes a great starter or fresh side dish any time of the year. Mangia.

Can’t go wrong with Caprese

Caprese salad might just be the perfect food. Ripe juicy tomatoes, fresh creamy mozzarella, a few leaves of bracing basil — what’s not to like? It’s unprocessed, it’s delicious, and it’s relatively healthy. A little s&p, maybe a drizzle of olive oil… boom. Perfection on a plate.

an impromptu Caprese sandwich

I grew to love Caprese salads — or insalata Caprese — in Italy, as you do, and in Germany of all unexpected places. During our visits these past few years, my standard lunch order abroad has been a Caprese sandwich — said salad on a thick wedge of crusty toothsome bread. It’s easy to find, readily available on nearly every menu and at every bake shop counter.

If you want to look like a rock star in the kitchen, put together a Caprese salad or sandwich and see what kind of compliments you receive. The only way you can really mess up this dish is by using sub-par ingredients. Like most Italian food, it relies on quality tomatoes and cheese, dressed just barely or not at all to let the true flavors shine through. When you start with high quality building blocks like this, you don’t have to hide them under a sauce or mask them with a dressing.

Caprese salad is pretty enough to serve at a fancy dinner party, or simple enough to toss together for a quick lunch (as I did yesterday). A few tips – get the best tomatoes you can find, and don’t refrigerate them; this makes the texture mealy and blunts the flavor. If you can pick them straight out of your garden and serve them still warm from the sun, all the better. I’ve had great luck with farmers’ market products this summer as well.

On to the cheese. Who doesn’t like mozzarella cheese? Again, go for the best quality you can find and afford, although I often just buy a ball of the stuff at Marsh or Kroger in the deli section when it’s on sale. (The smoked mozzarella is a nice alternative on occasion.)

I’ve had a bumper crop of basil in my patio planter this year, but if you must buy it at the store, look for fresh snappy leaves with no bruises. Store the herb upright in a tall glass in the fridge with just enough water in it to barely submerge the stems.

When it’s time to put it all together, slice the cheese and the tomatoes into widths of equal size. Layer the slices on a plate or platter, alternating for color contrast. Scatter a few whole basil leaves over on top, or tear them into small pieces with your fingers. If you want to be really fancy, you can chiffonade your basil. Don’t freak out and panic when I say “chiffonade;” it just means you roll up the leaves into a little cigar shape and slice them into cute thin ribbons.

Whoomp, there it is. If you like, you can drizzle the salad with a little good quality olive oil. I sometimes like to add a tiny bit of balsamic vinegar for flavor, but that’s just me. You can also cube the cheese and tomato, put it in a bowl, mix in the basil and olive oil, then spoon the mixture over grilled chicken or pasta. Add some kalamata olives, or perhaps a few garlic croutons. Or, throw in slices of avocado. Heck – go crazy.

It goes without saying that Caprese’s best served in summer, when produce is at its peak ripeness, but it makes a great starter or fresh side dish any time of the year. Mangia.

Garden variety

Nothing says summer like a just-picked vine-ripened tomato still warm from the sun, sliced, drizzled with olive oil, sprinkled with a little coarse salt and dressed up with a few leaves of fresh basil. To my palate, this simple pleasure tastes like sunshine on a plate.

Yesterday, I got my tomato plants into the garden and am crossing my fingers that they “take.” Each year around my birthday in March, I start getting antsy to get my hands dirty and get some seeds going. By the time the last frost date rolls around, my starts have usually gotten so big, they’re taking suicide leaps off the windowsill.

windowsill tomatoes

This year’s batch is a little leggy, but I think once they get outside for some fresh air, sun and rain, they’ll be just fine. My garden tomatoes have been hit or miss the past few years. The first year I planted them, they were GORGEOUS. Seriously, they were so pretty, my neighbor said they could have been used in a magazine layout. And they tasted great. The next year? The few late bloomers I was able to harvest didn’t have much flavor, I’m sad to say. Not sure what makes such a big difference in them year to year when I use the same starting methods and the same garden patch.

For my 2011 crop, I’ve got beefsteaks, cherry tomatoes and something called German tomatoes. One of my dad’s friends in Richmond got me hooked on those last year – he’d come across them somewhere and cultivated them in his own garden because they are a low-acid variation. They’re kind of strange to look at (they’re actually kind of ugly, truth be told), slightly bigger than Romas and almost square in shape. The first one I sliced into almost resembled salami inside, and I thought “Hm. Okaaaaaay…” My expectations weren’t high, and then I took a bite. For as weird as they look, these little gems pack a mighty punch of juicy summer tomato flavor. My dad and I went back several times for more, and I kept some of the seeds to try for myself this year. So far, so good. Can’t wait to see how they get along in my own backyard.

In addition to tomatoes, I have a ledge at the back of my driveway that has turned into a pretty kick-ass perennial herb garden. Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme, and then some. One of my favorite things to do in season is to stroll out there, specially devoted herb scissors in hand, and cut a veritable bouquet of sprigs to use in my cooking. Not to brag, but I make a mean mixed-herb pesto.

the ledge o' herbs

Here’s what I’ve learned about herb gardening – oregano, parsley and chives grow like crazy without much attention. I love fresh dill and cilantro, but they’re really not worth the effort it takes to garner a small useable amount. Still trying to figure out what it is that keeps eating little holes in my basil.

So, plants are in. Now we wait. Bring on the Caprese.