The classic triumvirate of tomato, basil and mozzarella is nothing short of divine. I can just imagine Michelangelo snacking on this delicacy whilst carving the David statue. The salad is such a quintessential, Italian dish yet it has become a major part of the American summer menu – especially with the resurgence of heirloom tomato growing! My Caprese Panzanella from Dinner on the Grounds evokes the freshness of the Caprese salad with the all too fabulousness of hunky bread cubes toasted to perfection so they can soak up the vinegary sauce. I digress… that salad is fit for another post!
My Georgia Caprese Salad has a fun origin and pays homage to the old adage “necessity is the mother of invention.” The necessity of mention was supper. A light summer supper for yours truly alone. I was hot. I was tired. I did not want to cook – the thought of being around more heat was as tempting as repeatedly running into the back porch screen – head first mind you – like the bumble bee was doing. My family was scattered with other activities, travel or who knows what and Ol’ Jimmy was home alone – and hungry!
Not only was the thought of cooking with heat unappealing, the thought of eating something hot was equally unappetizing. Enter the “necessity… invention” moment. I rummaged through the fridge and saw I had a block of Pepper Jack cheese from M&T. I said to myself, “Self, you can at least have cheese and crackers.” Then I got to thinking – a dangerous pastime.
There was a basket of peaches on the island awaiting my attention. I had a mess of basil in a Mason jar on the windowsill and a Caprese Salad - a GEORGIA Caprese Salad began running wild in my mind. “Could it work? Will it be good?” spun around my head and the next thing I knew, I had sliced that peach open, layered a slither of the Pepper Jack cheese with a basil leaf atop the peachy wedge and was eating like the Prodigal Son on the fattened calf. As fresh and delicious as it was, it needed something. The creaminess of the soft cheese with a little peppery heat was marvelous with the tangy sweetness of the peach. The basil gave that green zing and herby wow-factor only fresh herbs can do but there was something still lacking. It needed a vinegary bite but with a hint of sweetness. Lucky for me, I had a jar of balsamic vinegar that I had reduced for my balsamic barbeque sauce – oooh…another post idea! Drip, drip, drip – drizzle, drizzle, drizzle – dunk! That was just what it needed!
The intensified sweetness of the balsamic reduction was syrupy in viscosity and just the right sweet with a vinegary tang. So after making a pig’s ear mess at first, I thought that I should try again and make it pretty. And then, I had to coin it for sure as a truly Georgian dish – Georgia-grown peaches, Georgia-made cheese, my Georgia-garden-grown basil with a balsamic glaze made right in my kitchen… Italy helped with the origination of the vinegar proper! As Mimi said, “we eat with our eyes first…” thus, I had to make it visually pleasing. This part was not difficult mind you – a peach is, well, pretty as a peach on its own! So here it is y’all, my Georgia Caprese Salad!
Georgia Caprese Salad
Photography by Helen Norman
4 small, think slices pepper Jack cheese
4-6 large basil leaves
*Reducing the balsamic vinegar on the stove over medium heat intensifies the flavor and thickens the vinegar too.