I have four of the Barefoot Contessa cookbooks in my collection and I use them with surprising regularity. If you are new here, I am a vegetarian – something Ina definitely is not. Like not even close. But I love her books and love her recipes. I use many of the dessert ones and also get a lot of mileage out of the soup, salad, and vegetable chapters.The dinner I made last night contained two recipes from her latest book, Back to Basics.
Do you remember the garlic bread from your childhood? The one I remember is from some “Italian” restaurant in the suburb of Seattle where I grew up. My parents are transplanted New Yorkers and I think the hardest part about moving West was the loss of good Italian food and good bagels. (It has gotten better, but we are by no means close to what NY has to offer.) We would go to this restaurant and my brothers and I would chow on garlic bread which consisted of styrofoam-like bread, slathered with butter, and liberally sprinkled with garlic salt. There may have even been some green can Parmesan cheese on there for good measure. Needless to say we loved it, but there is no way I would eat that now.
This is real garlic bread. Ciabatta bread, a heady concoction of lots of garlic, parsley, and fresh oregano sauteed with salt and pepper in a good amount of olive oil, and a very restrained amount of butter – especially for Ina. This is baked in the oven for only 10 minutes – just enough for the all the flavors to mingle and for the bread to get nice and warm – not enough to toughen the bread. In true Ina form, this recipe is found in the Vegetables section of the book!
The other recipe I made yesterday was for this Roasted Tomato Caprese Salad. For me it was one of those – why didn’t I think of that?! – moments. Here in Seattle, we are fortunate to have amazing produce. We get incredible spring asparagus and peas, summer berries that people all over the country would pay a fortune for, and wild mushrooms all fall. We do not, however, get good tomatoes. If you grow them yourself, you can get a decent tomato now and then, but I have never experienced the New Jersey tomato. If I did, I think I would cry.
I love tomatoes so I eat them anyway. But Caprese salad never did much for me. Mozzarella doesn’t have that much flavor, so if your tomatoes are tasteless, why exactly would you eat it? Enter Ina and her good idea to roast the tomatoes. That way, you can concentrate the flavor and give it a little boost with olive oil, salt, pepper, a little sugar, and a little balsamic vinegar. Eating this last night really was a revelation and a recipe I will make again and again.
Garlic Ciabatta Bread
Adapted from Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics
To make my cooking healthier, I always add a minimal amount of oil when I am sauteing. For this recipe, you will want to add more – perhaps not the full 1/2 cup called for in the recipe, but at least 1/4 cup. You want the garlic and herbs nice and moist so they can be easily spread on the bread.
6 large garlic cloves, roughly chopped
1/4 cup fresh parsley
2 tbsp. fresh oregano leaves
1 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup olive oil
1 large ciabatta bread
2 tbsp. unsalted butter, at room temperature
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Place the garlic, parsley, oregano, salt, and pepper in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade and process until finely minced. (DN: A mini food processor is perfect for this if you have one.) Heat the olive oil in a medium saute pan over low heat. Add the garlic and herb mixture and cook for 3 minutes, until the garlic is tender but not browned. Remove from the heat and set aside. (DN: You can leave this for several hours if need be.)
Cut the ciabatta in half horizontally, running a serrated knife parallel to the board. Spoon the garlic mixture onto the bottom half and spread the btuter on the top half and place together.
Bake the bread for 5 minutes, then unwrap and discard the foil. Bake for another 5 minutes. Slice crosswise and serve warm.
Roasted Tomato Caprese Salad
Adapted from Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics
This is essentially a simple salad so the components are very important. If you have access to very fresh mozzarella, now is the time to splurge. If you live in Seattle, DeLaurenti makes their own and it is amazing. Also, use your best olive oil and Balsamic vinegar, even your best sea salt. You will taste the difference.
12 plum tomatoes
1/4 cup quality olive oil, plus more for drizzling
1 1/2 tbsp. balsamic vinegar
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tsp. sugar
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
16 oz fresh mozzarella
12 basil leaves, julienned or chopped
Preheat oven to 275 degrees.
Arrange the tomatoes on a sheet pan, cut sides up, in a single layer. Drizzle with the olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Sprinkle with the garlic, sugar, 1 1/2 tsp. kosher salt, and 1/2 tsp. pepper. Roast for 2 hours until the tomatoes are concentrated and begin to caramelize. Allow the tomatoes to cool to room temperature. (DN: These can be made up to 1 day in advance. Allow to cool and then store in the refrigerator. Allow to come to room temperature before serving.)
Cut the mozzarella into slightly less than 1/2 inch thick. If the slices of mozzarella are larger than the tomatoes, cut the mozzarella slices in half. Layer the tomatoes alternately with the mozzarella on a platter and scatter the basil on top. Sprinkle lightly with sea salt and pepper and drizzle lightly with olive oil. Serve at room temperature.