Oh, hello! Are you there? Because I’m not. Ok, technically I am physically here. But my mind appears to have vacated the premises. Half of it is scurrying nervously around, dusting off specific aims and trying to make sure its hypotheses match (sort of like socks, those hypotheses, in fact, I think my dryer might have eaten one of them). The other half has up and taken off for the Mediterranean. It seems to be hanging out on terrazza somewhere along the coast between Nice and Portofino.
Obviously the latter half is much cleverer, and knows what’s up. It watches the busy, blustering academic part with a shrug of ‘who knows what that’s about,’ and pours itself a glass of wine while sighing contentedly, “ah, la vita really es bella, isn’t it?”
I would like for the rest of me to join that half of my brain.
It’s certainly the part that seems to be in charge of dinner these days. All I find myself wanting to eat when the evening meal rolls around is antipasti, or a simple salad and fresh cheese, and a glass of wine, preferably rosé. And so we do. We take a platter out to the little blue cafe table on our rickety balcony and we eat vegetables and cheese, the occasional olive or cured meat, as the sun turns all coral and golden over the city. And life really is quite beautiful.
This salad, simple, fresh and in all the hues of the sunset, made for the most perfect dinner so far.
It’s an easy twist on a classic caprese salad. Now, you may be thinking, a caprese salad already epitomizes summer perfection, it’s elegant, easy, and has perfectly balanced flavors. Why on earth are you trying to change anything about it?! Rest assured, I agreed with you. The addition of nectarines doesn’t change the salad, it augments it in a way that is subtle, and so comfortable it’s as if maybe that’s the way it was originally meant to be.
Say the caprese salad is like a gorgeous outfit from Chanel. Then, adding the nectarines is simply like pairing the outfit with the perfect shoes. (Does that even make sense as a metaphor? I’m not actually very good at fashion. And I’ve certainly never worn Chanel. Maybe I should stick to what I know, but then I’d probably be talking about racing skis and choosing the right wax, and everyone would be left scratching their heads in confusion).
I had originally intended to add fresh apricots to the tomatoes, basil, and mozzarella. But, then it turned out we didn’t have any apricots, we had a bounty of nectarines that were teetering just on the brink of becoming overripe. It was obvious what needed to happen. (I also at some point intend to make grilled apricot and mozzarella sandwiches, but that too shall have to wait.)
I sliced up the sticky, sweet nectarines, some ripe sun-warmed tomatoes from the porch, and a springy, silky ball of mozzarella. I relieved several stems of basil of their leaves and proceeded to layer everything in a wreathe-like ring on a platter. Lots of sea salt, pepper, and good olive oil plus a delicate drizzle of some syrupy balsamic (which I had just invested in – must be that part of my brain at work) finished the job.
This is the essence of summer cooking. Good ingredients and a not overly complicated process. Which, leaves you with plenty of time to sit with your glass of wine and your half empty plate watching the sun sink, and appreciating.
Tomato and Nectarine Caprese (serves 2-3 for supper, more as a starter or side)
I thought I was all original and creative making this salad, and since then I’ve seen several similar ones. But, this is my way of making it. I think it would also be wonderful to cube everything and toss it with some bread cubes to make a panzanella. Or drizzle with pesto, instead of using basil leaves. Or go ahead and try it with apricots, as I had originally thought of.
- 2 very ripe nectarines
- 3 large, ripe tomatoes
- about 12 oz. of fresh mozzarella (just get a big ball of it), frozen for 10 minutes before slicing (the freezing is optional, it just makes it easier to slice)
- several handfuls of basil leaves
- fine sea salt and pepper
- 2 Tbs. olive oil
- 2 Tbs. good balsami vinegar
- Halve the nectarines and remove their pits, then slice them into approximately 1/4 inch slices.
- Slice the tomatoes and the mozzarella into slices of a similar size to the nectarines.
- Layer the tomato, nectarine, mozzarella slices and basil leaves, either on individual plates or on one serving platter.
- Sprinkle generously with salt and pepper. Then, drizzle the olive oil and vinegar over the top.
- Serve, accompanied by wine, maybe some bread (I actually had some polenta that I griddled and served on the side), and definitely some good cheer.