One of my favorite appeizers has always been Caprese, slices of fresh mozzarella layered with perfectly ripe tomatoes and drizzled with extra virgin olive oil. However, perfectly ripe tomatoes are not always an option unless you grow your own and they are in season. Even the "vine ripened" tomatoes at the supermarket leave a lot to be desired. I found a recipe for roasted balsamic tomatoes, which I decided to use in my own variation of Caprese. Roasting the tomatoes reduces some of the moisture, concentrating their flavor, and the added balsamic intensifies both the sweet and tart aspects of the tomatoes, turning merely OK tomatoes into something wonderful. Of course, the dish is only as good as the rest of the ingredients. If at all possible get the mozzarella from an Italian market and ask them to salt it, giving it a final bath in salty water before it is wrapped. The balsamic should be a nice aged variety, and the oil should be the most fragrant extra, extra virgin olive oil that you can find. Top it all off with fragrant basil leaves and you will have a perfect start to a meal or even a delicious light lunch.
Roasted Balsamic Tomato Caprese
Serves: 4 to 6
Oven Temperature: 275°
5 - 6 ripe plum or vine-ripened tomatoes
1 - large ball fresh mozzarella, about 12 oz.
extra, extra virgin olive oil, best quality
Slice tomatoes into 1⁄4 inch thick slices. Lay them out in a single layer on parchment paper or no-stick foil on a baking sheet. Brush tomatoes with balsamic vinegar, covering all surfaces, and sprinkle lightly with salt. Bake at 275° for 20 minutes. Remove from oven and brush all surfaces with balsamic vinegar again and bake for additional 20 minutes. Allow to cool. Meanwhile, bring about 1⁄2 cup balsamic vinegar to a boil over medium heat and reduce to a syrupy consistency, watching carefully for burning. Slice mozzarella in half lengthwise, then into 1⁄4 inch thick slices. Arrange on platter alternating mozzarella and roasted tomatoes. Dish can be covered with plastic wrap and refrigerated at this point. Immediately before serving drizzle with the reduced balsamic vinegar and olive oil. Snip or tear basil into slivers and distribute over the dish.
Notes & Pointers:
As delicious as regular caprese is, this is light years ahead of it in “knock-your-socks-off” flavor! It should be noted that fresh mozzarella bears little resemblance to the mass-produced packaged stuff we often eat on pizza. If you don't have a local Italian market, the store-made fresh mozzarella will substitute. Be careful when reducing the balsamic--it can go from syrupy to charred in moments!