New Jersey has this bad habit of getting excessively warm and then cooling down again. It’s like Mother Nature can’t decide whether or not she wants the AC on. For the past few weeks, temperatures have been anywhere from a warm 80 to a cool 55 (today happens to be 90, but don’t worry, it will be in the 60s again by the weekend). Anyway, I figured it was time for a lighter recipe—one that could be enjoyed indoors on a hot day or out on the patio when the air is a little cooler. It’s my take on a Caprese (spoiler alert: I subbed tomatoes for roasted red peppers and added fresh arugula and homemade basil-walnut pesto).
Believe it or not, I went 22 years without knowing how to make my own pesto. When I looked at it in the jar I thought, “How does it look like that? Is that all basil?” I always figured there was some sort of secret technique that got it so smooth and flavorful without feeling like basil overload. Well the truth is, pesto kind of is basil—and garlic and nuts—overload. The “secret technique” is actually just the understanding that it doesn’t take a lot of pesto to create powerful flavor. So when you whip up this recipe, remember to spread a thin layer on the sandwich—just enough to give it a punch without tasting like a mouthful of leaves. Basil leaves, that is.
“Caprese” usually means a salad of fresh mozzarella, tomatoes and basil, and it originated in Italy (actually, the colors of the salad resemble the colors on the Italian flag). There are ways you can alter this sandwich to your liking; that’s what I did by adding the roasted peppers. If you’d like, throw on a piece of grilled chicken, or fry up some eggplant in Italian-style bread crumbs and add it (that’s my mom’s favorite way to do it). The bottom line is, cooking is all about creativity. There’s always room for personal taste in a dish. If there’s something you love to add to your Caprese sandwich, let me know (I’d love you give it a try!).
Makes 4 sandwiches
1 1/2 cups fresh basil leaves (remove stems)
2 tablespoons pine nuts or walnuts
1 large clove of garlic
1/3 cup of olive oil (plus more as needed)
2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Combine first five ingredients in a food processor and process until very fine. Add Parmesan cheese and process briefly. If pesto is too thick, add a little more olive oil.
1 loaf ciabatta bread
2 cups fresh arugula
10 ounces roasted red peppers (or 1 medium tomato, sliced)
12 ounces fresh mozzarella
Slice bread down the middle and add arugula, roasted peppers and mozzarella. Top with pesto (since pesto has such a strong flavor, only a thin layer is needed). Slice four ways and serve.