“Mini” Caprese Salad

Caprese Salad Ingredients

Caprese Salad Ingredients

Actually, this salad can be as big as you’d like. The only “mini” about it is the size of the ingredients in the bowl. Usually Caprese salads are nice big slices of tomatoes and  mozzarella alternating on the plate like a splayed deck of cards (ready for a fancy trick-pick a card, any card…um, queen of tomato?). But this one puts it all in a bowl in bite-sized pieces. You don’t need a knife to eat it (but a fork is useful).

I’m combining the usual Caprese ingredients–tomatoes, mozzarella, basil–with a couple of other ingredients that used to satisfy my after-school snack desires: shallot & dried oregano. A fav dish of mine in that nowhere time zone of school-day-done-and-dinner was cut up tomatoes, diced yellow onion, dried oregano, olive oil and salt & pepper. I can still wolf down that concoction without blinking.

Of course, you know what “Caprese” means? Capri. As in the isle of Capri. Off the coast of Amalfi. One of those wowza places that sings siren songs in your head unexpectedly (like when you’re eating cheerios for breakfast or walking in a parking lot or doing the laundry–events that have nothing to do with the isle of Capri and so that’s its magic: it shows up anywhere).  I was just wandering that island last June. The streets were filled with tourists (doesn’t matter, it’s still phenomenal), the shops were dripping with everything you want to buy, the scenery takes your breath away so you have to stop to breathe every other step. On our approach to Marina Piccola by boat we slipped through the Faraglioni “rock islands” and felt like a visitor to another (beautiful) planet.

Capri

Faraglioni, Capri

So if you’re from Capri, you’re Caprese. Tomatoes grow in the south of Italy, mozzarella is made in Campania, which makes this salad “Caprese.”

Here’s how I turn it into “mini”…

Cut up the tomatoes into bite-sized pieces:

Cut tomatoes into bite-sized pieces

tomatoes in bite-sized pieces

Mince shallot (instead of my teenage-hood onion, much more subtle and gentle):

cutting shallot

cutting shallot

Use mini mozzarella balls (bocconcini)…and even these I cut in half:

cutting cheese

cutting cheese

Add fresh basil and/or fresh mint…I tear the leaves into bite-sized pieces:

basil and mint

basil and mint

Dried oregano for that “after-school” zing:

add dried oregano

add dried oregano

Drizzle of olive oil, salt & pepper and you’re in the land of yum…(just shy of the Tyrrhenian Sea by a few thousand miles but your taste buds just might be fooled).

mini Caprese Salad

mini Caprese Salad

Fav Nashville Eats: City Limits Bakery & Cafe

Bagle

Bagel

Bagels. They can really run the gamut. There are some pretty awful bagels out there. And even the awful ones range on a scale of 1 to 10 of awfulness. If you’re really stuck and you really want a bagel you can end up eating something with the texture of rubber, cake, or cardboard– none of that has anything to do with bagels.

Bagels should be chewy with a slight crispy/crunch on the surface. They’re not soft but they’re a little soft. When you give them a squeeze they should barely yield. But they should yield some. The outside has a slight sheen. The inside breadiness has holes here and there. A good bagel is ridiculously good. A bad bagel is something like hell.

I lived in NYC for 30 years. The last 10 of which were in the Bronx. Spuyten Duyvil to be exact-Riverdale by its more familiar name. There were at least 3 bagel bakeries in this smallish neighborhood. And I investigated each one for my column in the Riverdale Press called “Riverdale Eats.” What a treat to see the process and even get a chance to make a bagel.

Process:

They make the dough in one of those huge mixers. Ingredients were a bit of a secret for each bakery but flour, salt, yeast, and malt seemed to be the staples. They make a BIG batch of dough. Slap in on a work table. Cut it into smaller slabs that get shaped into bagels by a wonderful bagel-shaping machine. They proof them in their bagel shapes then boil them in a big vat of water before they’re lined up on wooden planks that fit into a rotating oven (looks like a kind of ferris wheel).

And Waa-Laa!

Buttered Bagel

Buttered Bagel

In the Bronx I had a friend that came for breakfast on most Sunday mornings. He lived downtown in the Village and would stop at Russ & Daughters to get some whitefish salad. I picked up the bagels from Rolen Bagels or Bagel Corner (same owners in Riverdale but Riverdalians swore that the bagels were different in each bakery although the owners told me ingredients and process were exactly the same) (still I preferred Bagel Corner-you’re right, they are on the corner). Once in a while, along with the whitefish salad he would bring bagels from Russ & Daughters. They weren’t as good as my Bronx bagels (altho I suspect Russ & Daughters didn’t bake them themselves but got them from some other Manhattan bagel source). When I lived in Manhattan I swore by  H & H Bagels but lost interest once I tasted my new neighborhood bagels.

Oh, yes, it goes on and on. Talk to a New Yorker about bagels and you’ll be there for hours. And invariably the part about New York water will come up. Is it true? Do NY bagels and NY pizza taste better because of the NY water?

And what’s all this have to do with Nashville? Well, I got a bakery in Bellevue that gets their bagel dough from the Bronx. Bakes ‘em up perfectly and now I get to have Bronx-originated bagels any ol’ time! Where in the Bronx they get it I don’t know but I don’t care. They have perfect bagels EVERY time.

City Limits Bakery & Cafe on Clofton Drive is the place you want to be. It’s a hidden gem that only Bellevue locals seem to know about (and now I go blabbing about it — don’t ruin it guys by making it too popular around town, it’s perfect!) Even though it’s a local place it’s almost always packed (except on weekday afternoons around 3-4 when it’s quiet and I like to go there to write).

City Limits Bakery & Cafe

City Limits Bakery & Cafe

BTW they’ve got way more than bagels. Yummy muffins (I like the orange blossom one). Other sweet treats: brownies, danishes, scones, more. AND the main draw is their food-food. Sandwiches, salads, soups (they do a City Max special: half sandwich with soup or salad). The atmosphere is airy and tranquil and friendly. You can bring your computer and park all day but they don’t have WIFI (which is a good thing, otherwise I’d move in).  You’ll want to adopt everyone who works there because they’re so NICE.

City Limits Bakery & Cafe

City Limits Bakery & Cafe

And…added bonus: right behind the bakery are train tracks and every once in a while a humongous freight train goes by, blowing its whistle and giving you (if you step outside and go to the side of the building) a great close-up view of the power that moves our country! (An aside: my band Duette does a song called “The Old Hickory Commuter Train” …we shot our video for the song from this train-barreling vantage point– we’re still thrilled.)

Train

Oh, and, you can eat outside, too.

City Limits Bakery & Cafe

City Limits Bakery & Cafe

Let me know if you try the bagel. And let me know what you think. We can argue. Come on, it’s fun.

City Limits Bagel w some Hot Tea

City Limits Bagel w some Hot Tea

 

Man, You Are One Cute Tomato!

Tomato-Herb Salad

Tomato-Herb Salad

I’ll bet that’s what you’ve been saying all summer every time you’re at the farmer’s market. Or even at the supermarket (I remember in NYC, at summertime, the supermarket would have piles of “Jersey Tomatoes”).

I palpitate, almost hyperventilate, when I see those red, pink, yellow beefy or delicate or misshapen tomatoes strewn over the market tables. And then the little pint baskets with mixed grape or cherry tomatoes in red, yellow & green. And the craggy, voluptuous heirloom tomatoes. Edible sculptures just begging for salt and teeth.

You can get dizzy-looney coming up with new ways/uses for the beauties. Of course the best is to just bite in and slurp. Go ahead. Nothing like it. But if you’d like to use a fork and/or knife this gentle salad is like building a pedestal for those queens and kings of summer (are tomatoes male or female– mmmm….??).

I cut up a variety of tomatoes into bite-sized pieces. Tear a bunch of fresh mixed herbs. (Try basil, tarragon, mint, parsley, fennel fronds.) Add a drizzle of olive. A drizzle of apple cider vinegar. Season lightly with salt & pepper (lightly because these tomatoes come equipped with giant flavor). Add some crumbled goat cheese on top. (Perhaps a handful of walnuts?) Toss gently. Take the whole serving bowl to your place at the table (preferably outdoors), (bring a fork). Pour a crispy cold little glass of white wine (I’ll take a New Zealand sauvignon blanc). And dive in…to summer in a bowl. To one of the best moments of your life (you’ll thank yourself one cold future winter day). It’s a celebration of you in summer untied with the willing friends of planet earth.

Tomato-Herb Salad

Tomato-Herb Salad

I Don’t Like Jam, But….

Crostata Marmellata

Crostata Marmellata

I’m the kind of eater who likes my peanut butter sandwich without jelly. Always have, always will.

I ignore the little jam package-cubes on the plate next to the butter package-cubes when toast arrives to the table at the diner. I have jars of jam in my refrigerator only because I teach cooking classes and sometimes I have to use them for a recipe. But if 2 ounces are left over from a 4-ounce recipe the jar will languish in the cold for months before I realize…hey, I’m never gonna use this, let’s throw it out.

Okay. One exception to the rule. And wouldn’t you know it’s the Italians who came up with it.

Crostata Marmellata. I make this recipe mainly because I love saying the name…it’s a poem in two words.

Well, I make it for other reasons, too. I happen to LOVE it. How can that be? The only ingredient in the filling is jam! I imagine that’s the magic of a great recipe. This one is a classic. I first learned from an Italian woman from Piacenza. She would make 3 tarts at a time because they’d get eaten up that fast. What works for me is the ratio of tart dough to jam filling in each bite. Gotta have that ratio. Add a little cup of espresso to your afternoon treat and you’ll feel like you’re hanging in the kitchen of a house in the hills of Rivergaro (of the Colli Piacentini) while the rosemary bushes sway in the breeze outside the door.

Crostata Marmellata – Jam Tart

For the pastry dough:

1 ½ cups flour

1 teaspoon sugar

pinch salt

½ cup unsalted butter (8 tablespoons), cut into cubes

¼ cup cold white wine

For the filling:

2 10-ounce jars of strawberry, blackberry, or raspberry jam

1 egg, lightly beaten, add tablespoon of water

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Use a 9-inch tart pan.

Add the flour, sugar, salt to the bowl of a food processor, pulse to combine. Add butter and pulse until the mixture is crumbly with small pea-sized pieces. Add wine. Pulse until mixture comes together as a dough. Turn dough out onto a work surface and press together into a thick disc. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for 30 minutes-1 hour.

Remove dough from refrigerator. Break off about one third of the dough and keep smaller piece covered in plastic. On a lightly floured surface roll out the larger piece of dough into a round disc about an inch or two larger than the tart pan. Place the dough into the pan and gently fit in into the corners. Trim the edges by pressing the rolling pin over the top.

Dock the pastry with a fork by pricking the bottom with the tips of the fork tines. Spread the jam evenly into the shell.

Now roll out the smaller piece of dough into about 1/8 inch thick. With a knife or pastry wheel cut strips of dough. Fit the strips of dough on top of the tart in a criss-cross design. Make sure to join the strips to the edges. Lightly brush dough with beaten egg wash.

Bake tart about 40 minutes until golden. Let sand for about an hour before serving.

Crostata Marmallata

Crostata Marmellata

 

 

Fav Nashville Eats: Caffe Nonna

Caffe Nonna

Caffe Nonna

So where do you go out to eat Italian food?

Sometimes someone will ask me that.

I’m usually stumped. I don’t often eat out “Italian.” I’ve got a kitchen-full of Italian food and students coming over to cook it with me! So when I go out you’ll find me at a Japanese, Indian, Middle Eastern, Greek, or Chinese restaurant. A pub/sports bar or a meat n’ 3.  A place with a Southern/or Southern re-invention menu. A bakery. A casual American joint.

BUT. I do occasionally get the urge to eat out “Italian.” Usually when I’m hanging with my mom and sister. We each have geiger-counter-style Italian palates that act like false-o meters. The food has got to have the right taste (even if it’s not the sauce you would make at home) — it’s gotta be in the proper “realm” — it has to hit the true Italian “note.”

One place we can rely on is Caffe Nonna in Sylvan Park.

We were there recently and hadn’t been for more than year. One of the waiters recognized us as soon as we walked in and welcomed us as if we were regulars. “Good to see you again! It’s been a while!”

The place is tiny. And full of people. The lighting glows intimately. The room hugs you with warm colors and old world decor. You immediately feel at home.

Caffe Nonna

Caffe Nonna

Their menu has lots of entrees but we get caught up with the pasta choices. Choose from a list of pasta shapes and a list of pasta sauces. Mix and match. That’s immediately such a fun game. Italians are very particular about which pasta shapes go with which pasta sauces. Certain dishes never change: Penne all’Arrabiata, Fettuccine alla Bolognese, Linguine alle Vongole,  Spaghetti alla Carbonara, Bucatini con le Sarde, Fettuccine Alfredo, etc.

I think every other time I’ve eaten here I picked fettuccine with bolognese sauce. This time I went for fettuccine with white clam sauce. I loved NOT choosing the proper linguine or spaghetti. It’s an exotic treat to match fettuccine (the “wrong” pasta shape) with clam sauce! My sister got the same. My mom went for fettuccine, too, but with the bolognese sauce.

While we waited for our dishes we nibbled on bread dipped in seasoned olive oil (they don’t do this in Italy but it’s tasty.)

dip some bread in flavored olive oil

dip some bread in flavored olive oil

When our dishes arrived they looked wonderful. They smelled wonderful. And they were very healthy portions. Each bowl had a tablespoon in it. We each pulled out the spoon and set it aside. You really don’t need a spoon to eat long-stranded pasta. (I’ll tell you how if you think you do.)

The waitress asked if we wanted grated cheese. My mom took some (she thought they put too much but liked it anyway).

fettuccine alla bolognese

fettuccine alla bolognese

You’re not supposed to have cheese on any pasta with fish/clams, etc. in it.

fettuccine with white clam sauce

fettuccine with white clam sauce

But I was feeling rather decadent and asked for some cheese. So did my sister.

fettuccine with white clam sauce and cheese on top

fettuccine with white clam sauce and cheese on top

The pastas are seriously yummy. And I was surprised to find a bit of cream in the “white” clam sauce (which is usually white because it’s not red, but is actually clear with olive oil & white wine). If you would have told me cream was in the sauce I wouldn’t have ordered it. But tasting it (and eating ALL of it) I loved it. In fact, I’m stealing that idea!

empty dish of fettuccine with white clam sauce

empty dish of fettuccine with white clam sauce

My sister and I toasted our wine glasses a few times (my mom sticking to water). Nina had a Pinot Grigio, I loved my Barbera D’Asti.  (The way I pair wines is like this: I pick a dish I want to eat. And I pick a wine I want to drink. They don’t necessarily have to go together but somehow they do….like fettuccine with clam sauce.)

Nina & I toasting our wine

Nina & I toasting our wine

Nina--wine finished!

Nina–wine finished!

Chef Dan even came by the table to see how we liked our dinner. Before we were done we were talking about coming back (that’s like talking about what’s for breakfast tomorrow while you’re having dinner tonight). And we will be back. Thanks, Caffe Nonna!

Caffe Nonna

Caffe Nonna

 

The Zucchini, Peppers, Eggplant Reunion

Zucchini, Eggplant, Peppers

Zucchini, Eggplant, Peppers

You can use the above picture as a color palette for painting the walls of the rooms of your house. Bright yellow kitchen walls (I have that), Deep red dining room walls (I have that). Eggplant saturated office walls (I have that). And green…green…bedroom walls? (I don’t have that. No green walls.) (But the garden is green!)

Green Garden

Green Garden

The other thing you can do with that basket of wonder is cook it. Especially now when the shelves of the supermarket and the bins of the farmer’s market are spilling over with zucchini, eggplant and peppers. Those veggies just SAY summer (listen closely you can hear them) (they have tiny voices that squeak a little) (except for the eggplant, the eggplant is deep & bass-y). I’ve got a recipe that brings them together into a melange that makes them start singing.

First: cut each vegetable into uniform bite-sized pieces. Line 3 sheet pans with foil. Toss the cut-up zucchini on one, the cut-up peppers on the other, the cut-up eggplant on the third. Drizzle each with olive oil, sprinkle with salt & pepper (add a little hot pepper like “aleppo” if you’re so inclined), and roast each pan in a 400 degree oven until golden and softened.

NOW (in a large mixing or serving bowl) mix them all together. In a food processor (or by all means mince with a knife) pulse some basil and parsley and garlic. Add a little olive oil and season with salt. “Dress” your roasted veggies with the mixture and serve. Hot or room temp (I like room temp best for this).

When you take a bite you’re tasting summer, you’re swallowing the sun. You’re engaging with 3 separately grown vegetables that are finally having their reunion (because they are really lifelong friends…didn’t you know they went to high school together?)

Roasted zucchini, eggplant, pappers

Roasted zucchini, eggplant, peppers

And if you’re at the grill today and your CSA basket is overtaking your home with zucchini, eggplant and peppers, get them on the grill!

grilling zucchini, eggplant, peppers

grilling zucchini, eggplant, peppers

Slice each veggie. Toss with some olive oil and salt. Grill till grill lines make their appearance and your veggies soften up.

Make the pesto like above but add a bit more olive oil. Serve on a pretty plate (the veggies are, of course, the prettiest) and stare at the beauty for a while. But don’t wait too long. Your taste buds are dying to join the party.

grilled zucchini, eggplant, peppers w pesto

grilled zucchini, eggplant, peppers w pesto

Fav Nashville Eats: Burger Up

Duane and I don’t wait for tables often. Even at Burger Up. There’s always a crowd at Burger Up.

But the other day we took a chance, found a parking space right across the street and passed thru the waiting crowds into the restaurant and snagged a couple of stools at the bar (very high stools, you kinda have to climb up, and then you realize you can spin them to be lower…something like a-custom-bar-stool-for-you).

Bar at Burger Up

Bar at Burger Up

Easy. We were in.

Just looking at the menu we remembered how much we loved it the last time we were there and why has it been so long since we’ve been back? You don’t think about that much longer because your eyes are pretending to be your stomach mind-tasting each item on the menu. You order your burger (after see-sawing over which one). Duane went for the blue cheese with an added compliment of Benton’s bacon. I took the lamb burger. Whatever you choose know that the meat has been exquisitely sourced and you’re gonna taste the difference oh-yesiree-bob.

Burger Up blue burger w Benton's Bacon

Burger Up blue burger w Benton’s Bacon

Add their house-made ketchup and aioli and you’ll be a happy chewing fool. We scarfed down the burgers with onion rings and spinach accompaniment.

Burger Up house-made sauces

Burger Up house-made sauces

Gazed at all the lovely wood on walls and ceiling and tables. Watched the Nashville world go by, and were entertained by the bottle filling, drink making, and napkin folding going on behind the bar.

at the bar at Burger Up

at the bar at Burger Up

We’ll be back as long as we can snag those two bar stools again. Thanks, Burger Up!

D and me at Burger Up

D and me at Burger Up