Tomato growing season is upon us; I can hardly wait to see the little buds that will turn into delicious red jewels later this summer. Until I tasted an actual, home-grown, freshly-picked tomato, I didn’t know what I was missing. So real tomatoes actually have flavor, wow!
This revelation came to me a few years ago when some friends gave us tomatoes that they grew in their yard. I couldn’t get enough of them. Sadly, I’d never considered myself to possess a green thumb so each season, I would patiently wait for the tomato handouts. Alas, two years ago I finally tried to grow my own. Success! Well, after a couple of tries. We have an open yard where wildlife roam freely. After being told that the deer won’t eat tomato plants, I positioned five pots in the sunniest part of the yard. These plants lasted a couple of weeks until the deer discovered them. I proceeded to plant five more and created a makeshift “fence”. We went out of town for a few days and sure enough, the deer found a way to get to them again!
After shedding a few tears and threatening to give up gardening forever (before I even really started), I came home one day to a fenced enclosure that my husband had someone build while I was at work. Ah, it warms my heart just thinking about it. This deer barrier allowed me to grow ten different tomato plants plus a few herbs. That year, I made countless pasta dishes highlighting the simple, sweet flavor of a home-grown tomato.
This year, I’m growing three different varieties. They’re hardly more than a foot tall now, so I’ll have to wait a couple of months to enjoy their bounty. In the meantime, I’ll have to settle for the store-bought kind. I’ve actually discovered that roasting tomatoes will do wonders to the flavorless Roma tomatoes that are so abundant at the grocery store. Slow roasting them with a little olive oil and balsamic vinegar brings out the natural sweetness of the tomatoes that you wouldn’t taste otherwise. I’ll share my recipe soon. In the meantime, here is a little starter that I prepared tonight since I had all the ingredients already. I used cherry tomatoes, mozzarella and fresh basil leaves to create these little bites. If you have the patience to scoop out the seeds of a bunch of cherry tomatoes, this dish would make a great appetizer for a dinner party. Otherwise, hand your little one a melon baller and give them the laborious task–it’s well worth it.
Caprese Salad Bites
- Cherry tomatoes, tops sliced off and seeds scooped out with a melon baller
- Basil chiffonade
- Fresh mozzarella cheese cut into small pieces
- Olive oil
- Garlic, finely chopped
- Balsamic vinegar
- lemon juice
This dish is all about assembling the individual components. After preparing the tomatoes, stuff each one with a small piece of mozzarella cheese. For the dressing, toss some olive oil, balsamic vinegar, a bit of fresh lemon juice, salt and pepper. Whisk to emulsify and drizzle over the tomatoes. Sprinkle basil chiffonade on top. Enjoy!