Thursday, July 14, 2011

Dinner Inspired by the Garden(s)

Garden 1:
A couple of years ago our friend and former neighbor, Terry, decided to give me his AeroGarden hydroponic garden.  Why he decided to part with it I'm still not sure and ordinarily I would have done the polite, "oh, I couldn't possibly!"  But I had really been wanting one, so I accepted.  So far I've used it to grow herbs and lettuce and cherry tomatoes.  The tomatoes are in it right now and were one of the main attractions in last night's dinner.

Garden 2:
The garden on the deck is having mixed results.  Between the two tomato plants, there's a whopping 7 tomatoes.  I won't be canning my own tomatoes this year.  The sweet peppers and chiles are doing okay and the herbs are growing fabulously.  I've been pulling flowers off the basil all week to keep it growing and from going to seed.  Basil was another star of last night's dinner. 

So what was last night's dinner?  With tomatoes and basil all I can think of is Insalata Caprese - the Italian salad of tomatoes, basil and fresh mozzarella.  I threw in some gobetti for a pasta alla caprese.  The "sauce" for this is essentially a salsa cruda or raw sauce.  Since it's not cooked, only heated by the hot pasta, using the freshest, most flavorful ingredients is especially important.

The basic ingredients.

The end result was absolutely everything I wanted it to be.  Apparently the hubs thought so too.  He's normally tepid on pasta for dinner, but he ate two helpings last night.

Prepped and ready for the pasta

The tomatoes from the hydroponic garden were juicy and full of flavor.  I'm not certain I would be able to tell they were grown indoors if I were to taste them against fresh traditional garden grown tomatoes.  The basil was vibrant and spicy.  It's nearly impossible to get that kind of flavor from the grocery store.  It would have been awesome if I had made my own mozzarella, but that requires a little more planning.

The amounts in my recipe are very open to interpretation and personal preference.

Buon Appetito!
 Pasta alla Caprese
6 – 8 oz dry pasta (whatever shape you like)
Sea salt
1 cup cherry tomatoes
1 ball (about 8 oz) fresh mozzarella
5 - 7 large basil leaves
2 Tbs olive oil
Kosher or sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Cook the pasta according to package directions, adding a tablespoon or so of sea salt to the boiling water.

While the pasta is cooking, halve the cherry tomatoes if necessary and place in a large bowl.  Dice the mozzarella into cubes about the same size as the tomatoes and add to the bowl.  When the pasta is almost finished, cut the basil into a chiffonade and add to the bowl.  (The basil will begin to turn dark once it's cut.)  See the photos below for chiffonade technique.

Drain the pasta and add to the bowl.  Drizzle with the olive oil, season with salt and pepper and toss gently to combine.

Serve with some crusty bread to soak up the juices. 

How to chiffonade basil:

Stack the clean, dry basil leaves on top of one another.

Start from the long edge and roll like a cigar.

Slice across the basil roll to make fine ribbons - chiffonade.

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