Friday, September 17, 2010

Spicy Caprese Salad and Mediterranean Pasta

A month or so ago, I stumbled across a foodie gem called Tasting Table. They have regional sections, so I'm not reading about recipes that are awesome with produce only in season elsewhere, as well as a national section. One of the weekly recipe emails that caught my eye was a new twist on the traditional insalata caprese. Not that I think there's anything wrong with the original -- dishes with 3 ingredients that stand the test of time usually have a reason-- but it's always fun to add a little spice and see what happens.

This meal nicely spans the changing of seasons, combining the simplicity of the caprese salad (which always seems like a summer salad to me) with a warm, hearty pasta -- and all the ingredients are currently in season! I'm actually quite proud that almost all of the ingredients for this meal came from the Iowa City Farmer's Market, one of my favorite ways to spend a Saturday morning. I ended up having to buy the mozzerella cheese from the co-op because my cheese vendor wasn't at the market that morning. I personally always use Barilla PLUS for pasta, because of it's high protein, fiber and omega-3 content without tasting too hefty, but any pasta you prefer will work just as well. Hopefully this will inspire you to check out your own farmer's market if you've never been, or act as an impetus to go more regularly and get ingredients for dinner.

I used two banana peppers instead of the serrano chile the recipe called for, because those are what I found at the farmer's market. They did add a nice addition of flavor to the salad, though not as much spice as I was hoping. Moral of the story, if you aren't someone who loves feeling their lips tingle, stay with the banana peppers. If you're someone who scoffs at the word "mild", I would suggest finding more potent peppers. The Mediterranean pasta was made up as I walked through the market, though I wish I'd thought to buy kalamata olives to add more depth of flavor to the dish.

Spicy Caprese Salad, makes 4 servings
Adapted from TastingTable Chef's Recipes

8 roma tomatoes, cut into bite-sized wedges
10 cherry tomatoes, halved
10 leaves of fresh basil, thinly sliced
6 oz fresh mozzarella cheese, cut into 1/2" cubes
3 Tbs olive oil
1.5 Tbs red wine vinegar
Salt and pepper, to taste
Pinch of coarse sea salt
2 banana peppers or 1 small serrano chile, thinly sliced
1. In a large bowl, combine the tomatoes and season with salt and pepper.
2. Add the mozzarella and sprinkle the basil over the top.
3. Whisk together the olive oil and vinegar. Pour over salad mixture and gently toss.
4. Sprinkle a pinch of course sea salt over the salad, add the pepper slices and serve!

Mediterranean Pasta
Serves 4-6

4 bell peppers, variety of colors, cut into ~1" pieces
1 medium eggplant
1 small onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, minced
8 basil leaves, thinly sliced
olive oil!
1 box of pasta, penne or farfalle are my preferences for a dish like this
Parmesan or Romano cheese, for garnish
1. Wash eggplant and chop into 1/2" cubes. Wash and chop the peppers into 1" pieces.
2. Chop the onion and mince the garlic.
3. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the entire box of pasta, turn down the heat to medium-high to avoid boil-overs. Cook the pasta, covered, while continuing with the veggies, until the desired texture.
Drain and rinse the past in cold water, set aside.
4. Drizzle olive oil over a large skillet, saute onions and garlic on medium heat for a few minutes, taking care not to burn the garlic.
5. Add the peppers and another drizzle of olive oil. Saute the peppers, stirring occasionally, for 5-8 minutes.
6. Add the eggplant, basil and another drizzle of olive oil. Stir the mixture and cook for 5 minutes, then the skillet for another 5 minutes to help the vegetables cook all the way through.
7. Pull the vegetables off the heat just before the eggplant gets soft, as it will continue to cook a tish once removed from the heat and soggy eggplant can be a turn-off for many people.
8. Layer the vegetables over the pasta, top with fresh Romano or Parmesan cheese and serve immediately.

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