Caprese Salad with Balsamic Reduction

At mealtime Boaz said to her, “Come over  here. Have some bread and dip it in the wine vinegar.” … Ruth 2:14

The last two days have been HOT (hurray!!).  Love having the windows open in the car feeling the warm breeze (huh, now that I think about it, some of that “warm breeze” could be me yakking to Jim as we drive around). “Riding along in my automobile, my baby beside me at the wheel…” Hee Hee, I love Chuck Berry. And CCR. And Led Zeppelin. And Aerosmith. Most of all I love Mr. Jimmy Buffet. Oh my goodness steel drums make me want islands and big red drinks… Oops, off track again, sorry. 

Anyway, as soon as the weather gets hot I start really craving fresh veggies, fresh fruit, fresh herbs – you get the idea!  Friday I went out with two of my dearest friends for our thrice yearly birthday celebration (Happy Birthday Lynnae!). We went to a local Italian restaurant called Nona Rosa, and they had a really great take on a traditional caprese salad. It was so yummy I had to try to make it home.

Basically a caprese salad is slices of fresh mozzarella, fresh basil, and  fresh sliced tomatoes (see the fresh theme here?) with a drizzle of olive oil and maybe some salt and pepper. The salad we had yesterday included a couple of other ingredients, one of which was a balsamic vinegar reduction, and the other was prosciutto. 

Let’s talk about a balsamic reduction. The older balsamic vinegar is, the more expensive it is. And the older it is, the thicker and sweeter it gets, but an aged bottle of balsamic vinegar can be very costly.  You can create almost the same effect for a lot less money by making a balsamic reduction.  I bought a whole liter at Trader Joe’s for under $4 – just make sure to get some that doesn’t have caramel flavoring. There are a couple different ways to do a balsamic reduction. 

One way is to put the vinegar in a non-reactive pot (such as stainless steel or glass – use a non-reactive pot regardless of the method you choose). While continually whisking or stirring bring the vinegar to a gentle boil. Keep boiling and stirring until the vinegar reduces by about half.  This is a relatively quick method, but I’m not super fond of it because there’s a possibility of burning the vinegar (insert Mr. Yuck sticker here).

 

A second method takes longer, but the upside is you don’t have to stir it. You just heat it to a simmer over medium heat, and then turn it to low heat until i and let the heat slowly reduce the vinegar to about half.  Depending upon how much vinegar you are doing at once, this could take a couple of hours.

You’ll end up with half of what you started with, and it will have the consistency of maple syrup.  It will also have a wonderful sweetness. It is SOOOO good. Also, it will get a little thicker as it cools. I will warn you, it’s smells kind of vinegary in the house (of course, I like that smell so no biggie). Also, you can add things like garlic or herbs if you like (some folks even sweeten it up a bit with a little sugar).  Personally, I like it plain because then you can use it on veggies, fruit, meat, whatever. It has a wonderful sweet/tart/salty flavor.

And that, my friends, is the most difficult part of this recipe. Next thing, go ahead and wash your basil and your tomatoes and dry them off.

Slice your mozzarella and your tomato slices about 1/4″ thick (or thicker if you like, it’s your salad!).

Stack it up – start with the mozzarella….

Then the basil (I tore my leaves in half because they were quite robust)…

A bright and lovely tomato slice…

A drizzle of olive oil…

a bit of prosciutto and a drip or seven of your balsamic reduction.

This is heavenly.  Oh, and one other thing – you may want to get a squirt bottle to keep it in because then you can get all fancy and make dots around the edge of the plate, or other beautiful plating options. Obviously I just dumped it on, but I am here to tell you, it didn’t affect the taste one iota.

Caprese Salad with Balsamic Reduction

Ingredients:

  • Fresh mozzarella (I like the kind made with whole milk of course)
  • Fresh Basil
  • Fresh tomatoes (romas or compari, or whatever you have on hand)
  • Good quality prosciutto
  • Good quality olive oil
  • Balsamic Vinegar (get one without artificial flavor – Trader Joe’s has several nice ones)

Directions for Balsamic Reduction:

  1. Pour balsamic vinegar into a non-reactive saucepan.
  2. Either bring to a gentle boil, stirring constantly, and continue boiling and stirring until the vinegar reduces by half (quicker method, more likely to burn); or
  3. Heat to a simmer on medium low, turn the heat down to low, and leave it alone until it reduces by half (slower method, less likely to burn)
  4. As it cools it will become thicker.  It should have the consistency of maple syrup.
  5. If you reduce an entire bottle of balsamic vinegar, you can store it in the original bottle; or use a squirt bottle. Please store this in the refrigerator, and it will keep for months.

Directions for Assembling Salad:

  1. Slice tomatoes and mozzarella about 1/4″ thick
  2. On top of a piece of mozzarella, stack a piece of basil and a tomato slice.
  3. Drizzle with olive oil.
  4. Place a small piece of prosciutto on top of the tomato.
  5. Drizzle some of the balsamic vinegar reduction around the base of the mozzarella/tomato stack.


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