If there is one type of dish that makes me miss not growing tomatoes this year it would be a salad. A bowl of pasta tossed in a simple tomato-based sauce is a close second, but I can usually come up with easy substitutes like capers, olives or anchovies to add substance to pasta in the absence of good tomatoes. But an everyday salad? I look longingly at the empty spot where ripe tomatoes would normally be abundant this time of year; my salads are never the same without them.
When I had a craving for a caprese salad and happened to have all the ingredients available at home, I hesitated only briefly at the prospect of using a regular grocery store tomato. My tomatoes were neither homegrown nor plucked from a basket full of specialty heirloom varieties at the market; my mozzarella cheese wasn’t fresh from the neighborhood deli either though I had a nice bunch of organic fresh basil. Don’t think me a snob for being so selective–since I’ve learned to cook I’ve heard or read countless times that if your dish contains only a few ingredients you must use the best you can get. When a trio of simple ingredients is the cornerstone of a good caprese salad and I find my inventory a little lacking, I thought it best to compensate for it in the dressing.
Enter the figs. Thanks to a fun jam-making session with my blogger friends I have a pantry full of Fig-Balsamic Jam, as well as a jar of fig butter from Trader Joe’s. I decided to experiment and reduced some balsamic vinegar with fig butter (fig jam would work equally well). Besides the balsamic vinegar thickening up just a little and concentrating in flavor, the fig added more depth and a little sweetness to the simple dressing I tossed together with olive oil and garlic.
The fig-balsamic dressing masked the blandness and infused the sweetness lacking in my tomatoes. Minimal effort paid a big reward in this impromptu lunch and when I happened to glance outside at my yard, I didn’t miss as much the tomatoes I didn’t grow this year.
* Here’s a bite-size version of a caprese salad from the archives. Perfect for a party!
- *For the Dressing* (This should be enough for one or two servings but feel free to double according to these proportions)
- 3 Tablespoons balsamic vinegar
- 1 Tablespoon Fig Butter or Fig Jam (I had an open jar of TJ Fig Butter so that's what I used)
- 3 Tablespoons Olive Oil
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- salt and pepper, to taste (optional)
- *For the Salad*
- 1 large tomato per person, 3 thick slices
- 2 thick slices mozzarella
- Fresh Basil leaves, a couple plus more to chiffonade for garnish.
- To prepare the dressing: Combine the balsamic vinegar and fig butter in a small saucepan and turn up the heat to medium. Stir to dissolve the fig butter and cook for about 5 minutes until the mixture has reduced by a quarter. Transfer to a bowl and add the garlic and olive oil. Whisk until thickened and emulsified.
- To prepare the salad, stack the tomatoes, mozzarella and basil starting with a tomato slice and alternating until you end up with a third tomato slice. Drizzle with the dressing (a little is all you need) and garnish with basil chiffonade.