Caprese is yet another dish that I have my husband to thank for turning me on to. Since sampling my first bite of this deliciously simple traditionally Italian salad, I am a caprese aficionado! As with most Italian food, the beauty of caprese is in the simplicity and freshness of ingredients. Your basic caprese consists of tomatoes, mozzarella, and basil. From there you can add any spin on it you like. The best caprese I ever had was, of course, in Rome. The freshest tomatoes, the creamiest burrata cheese (fresh mozzarella with cream in the middle), crisp basil, and a drizzle of the finest quality extra virgin olive oil with a sprinkle of sea salt. Perfection on a fork. In my book, it doesn’t get any better than that.
The city we live in is not well know as a real foodie city (major bummer for the foodie hubby and I, but we make do). However, we do have a couple of diamonds in the rough that we treasure. One of those places is about thirty minutes away, but so worth the drive. This place has a constantly changing seasonal menu, and everything is unique and fresh! They even have a garden in their backyard where they procure the fresh tomatoes and basil for what can only be described as the best caprese in Michigan. And the burrata is homemade and rivals the creamy burrata I enjoyed so much in Roma. This place puts their signature spin on the dish by giving it a drizzle of balsamic reduction, and serving it with a piece of crispy, grilled baguette. Again I say, perfection on a fork!
So when my cousin told me that caprese was one of her favorite dishes, I wanted to construct a version that would be perfect for the wedding shower my mom and I were going to throw her. I think salads can look messy on a ginormous platter, and let’s face it- I like my food to look pretty. We eat with our eyes first! And then there’s the leakage issue. When you dowse a salad in any kind of dressing prior to serving it gets wilty and tomatoes start to leak gooey stuff. Gross. So I wanted to make a hand-held, dippable version that each person could dress individually. Enter pesto. My pesto is very close to a traditional pesto, with the exception of the spinach. In my opinion, the spinach doesn’t add a whole lot of taste. However it does bulk it up and add loads more nutrition to an already nutritious dip.
By the way, this Basil Spinach Pesto is not just for caprese. It makes an awesome salad dressing. It’s fantastic to top any cut of meat with- chicken, fish, pork- anything! I also suggest making extra of this pesto because it freezes beautifully. Just portion it out into an ice cube tray, freeze, then pop the cubes out of the tray and put them in a ziplock. Then you can pull out individual portions whenever you need to spruce up a boring weeknight dinner.
Ready for the recipe?
A note about a few of the ingredients:
- As far as the mozzarella goes, just do your best. If you can’t find the exact size, just get a large ball of mozzarella and cut it into pieces. I’ve linked to type that I use in the recipe below, although I don’t recommend buying your cheese off Amazon. I only did it so you could see the brand that’s available where I live. Yes I would love to use raw mozzarella from grassfed cows but this is a wedding shower people. Let’s not get too fancy.
- Quality parmigiano reggiano is not particularly difficult to find. I have it at my local grocery store. You’ll know it’s real because it will have a stamp on the rind that says “reggiano”. A good chunk will run you anywhere from $10-$15. If that’s not in your budget, a good alternative option is grana padano. It’s not quite as good quality, but it’s still passable and will only cost you anywhere from $5-$8. Whatever you do, do NOT buy pre-grated Parmesan cheese. That stuff has anti-caking agents in it and it will ruin the flavor of your pesto. If you cannot find reggiano or grana padano (but I bet you can), just omit the cheese altogether!
- Good quality extra virgin olive oil is important in this recipe (in every recipe really). You want a nice fruity flavored oil because you’re using quite a bit. If you use a low-quality, or just regular old olive oil, your pesto will not have a nice flavor. Spring for the good stuff here, people.
- Skewer the cherry tomatoes and mozzarella in an alternating pattern. On the skewers that I mentioned above, I can fit 2 tomatoes and 2 pieces of mozzarella.
- Toast the pine nuts. To do this, just place the pine nuts in a dry skillet over medium heat and let toast for about 3-5 minutes. Pay close attention. This will happen fast! As soon as you can smell them, they're done! Take them off of the heat and let them cool.
- In your blender (or food processor), add the basil, spinach, crushed garlic, cooled pine nuts and lemon juice.
- Give the blender a whirl until the ingredients are mostly combined, stopping to scrape down the sides.
- With the motor running, drizzle in the olive oil until the pesto comes together into a sauce and you've reached the consistency you like. I like mine pretty smooth so I tend to go heavy on the olive oil.
- Stir in the parmigiano. I like to stir it in as opposed to blending it because I like the texture better.
- Taste and season with salt.
- Serve the pesto alongside the skewers!
I hope you enjoy this recipe at your next get-together! My family and friends loved it!
What’s your favorite way to eat caprese?
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