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Caprese Bites

July 26, 2010

This weekend at the farmers’ market, SoupAddict spied the season’s first basket of cherry heirloom tomatoes at a booth across the way. SoupAddict loves cherry heirloom tomatoes with all her soupy heart, so of course she made a bee-line straight for them.

(She’s certain that if she were watching this from afar, the scene would’ve rolled out in spectacular slow motion, with SoupAddict making grands lunges this way and that, dodging children, heroically leaping over dogs on leashes, and side-swiping a basket of zucchini, sending the green fruit upward in a magnificent spray, each tumbling end over end.)

As SoupAddict got close to the table, she saw something in that basket that nearly sent her right over the edge: black cherry tomatoes. Black cherry tomatoes are SoupAddict’s favorite of favorites. She does, in fact, grow not one but two, outrageously prolific black cherry plants each year, because why settle for 500 black cherry tomatoes when you can have 1,000? That’s SoupAddict’s philosophy: quantity is a quality all its own.

(As a side note to the black cherries, SoupAddict just this day noticed that a volunteer tomato plant, which she’s let sprawl across a corner of her garden in its natural, unstaked state, is actually a black cherry. So, she has three black cherry tomato plants and will be positively buried by cherry tomatoes by September. And as further proof that Mother Nature is smarter than any of us, this plant was actually the first tomato plant to bloom and produce fruit, despite SoupAddict’s best efforts to get a head start by growing from seed in the dead of winter.)

Okay, SoupAddict has officially taken the subject way, way off topic, and must veer back.

She does that sometimes.

Especially when she gets to yammering about tomatoes.

Cherry tomatoes are bite-sized packages of delicious tomato goodness … but they’re horribly abused in crudités, grossly undeserving of their also-ran treatment piled ho-hummingly in one of the serving tray’s slots. No, no. Summer tomatoes demand a starring role. Something delicious, something unexpected.

Like a one-bite caprese salad.

Like all of the tomatoes in the “black” color category, their coloring is simply dark, whether red, purple or brown (how awesome would that be, to have a truly black tomato!), but are distinguished particularly by their flavor, which is complex and truly dreamy. Black cherries are burgundy with dark green shoulders. Can you spot them in the strainer above, nestled among the other cherries?
SoupAddict’s basil gardens are lovely again this year, which makes her weepy with sheer happiness. (This year, SoupAddict is going to try a radical experiment of just freezing the leaves, completely intact, in a vacuum bag. There’s a lot of debate about this technique, but SoupAddict does not care in the least if they turn brown in the freezer. If they thaw with that summery basil flavor, that’s all that matters.)
You’ll also need Mozzarella Ciliegine or Bocconcini (fresh mozzarella shaped in small balls).
Prepare the basil by slicing them chiffonade. First, stack 5 or 6 basil leaves (with the largest on the bottom). Then roll the stack tightly, lengthwise. Keeping a good grip on the roll, slice into narrow strips.
See how they remain curled? Leave the curls be until you need them.
Slice the tomatoes in half, keeping the pairs together. (On second thought, it just occurred to SoupAddict that mixing them up would be really cool, both visually and flavorly.)
Now take an appetizer pick. Something with a flat side works best, to keep the everything from spinning around. SoupAddict has no memory of buying these pitch-forky picks, but they came in handy for this project.

Add one tomato half and push it up to about the halfway point on the pick.

Carefully drop a basil curl onto the pick. Hold the pick upright if it keeps wanting to fall off.
Add one mozzarella ball, pushing it gently against the basil and tomato half. This will keep the basil curl in place.
Add another curl, and then finish with the other tomato half.
Plate, and drizzle with your favorite balsamic vinegar or dressing. (If SoupAddict had not been in such a hurry to shove these things into her gob to sample the results, she would’ve used a thick balsamic dressing, which would have drizzled elegantly in swirls and curves across the plate, instead of splishes and splashes. She’s sure you’ll do better.)
Elegant drizzlies or not, the peeps will love the little bites of caprese heaven. It’s summer on a stick.
And when you’re finished assembling the plate of appetizers, treat yourself to the full caprese salad. You deserve it.

  1. Susan permalink
    July 27, 2010 10:42 am

    Yum, yep, that’s summertime at it’s best!

  2. Phyllis Ryan permalink
    July 27, 2010 2:37 pm

    Because of your love of and writing about Black Cherries my neighbor and I started seeds. My plants are huge, two lovely green bushes with 3 tomatoes on it. What am I doing wrong? I want heirloom tomatoes and no one around here sells the final product. Not fair.

  3. SoupAddict permalink
    July 28, 2010 12:35 am

    Susan, you know I love to bake 😉 but I do live for tomato season. (Of course, I’ve been known to bake up some foccacia to toss in with the caprese salad like huge croutons.)

    Phyllis: never fear. At least your plants are healthy. Here are some things to look at, plus an issue you really can’t control:

    – The first thing is that plants are probably getting too much nitrogen. Nitrogen is essential, but too much produces lush foliage at the expense of fruit. Stop fertilizing immediately (but continue a regular watering schedule). If you’ve used a soil additive, scrape some of the soil away from the plant and replace with wood chips or wood-based mulch, then water. The wood will absorb some of the nutrients from the soil.

    – Pruning. Your black cherries might be huge now, but just wait until Sept! Mine routinely grow to 20 feet (and that’s multiple branches doing that). Whenever my brother, who has a 10-year tomato-growing headstart on me, looks at my tomato jungle, he just shakes his head and grabs his clippers. I’m horribly negligent at pruning. But I think in your case, getting rid of the excess greenery will help divert energy towards blooming. Remove only the suckers – whatever you can reach.

    – Some folks swear by epsom salts. It can’t hurt. You can either sprinkle some around the base of the plant and work it in to the soil, or add 1 tablespoon to a 16 oz spray bottle and spritz away at the greenery.

    – The weather. Tomatoes are funny plants – they need extremes. They love, love heat, but they need cool nights (in the 60’s). I don’t know about you, but for the last month, the weather in Cincinnati has rarely dipped below 72 at night, while the days swelter in the 90’s. Tomatoes don’t like to set fruit in excessive continuous heat. I’m having an extension of your problem: I have tons and tons of beautiful green tomatoes, but they won’t ripen. They need those cool nights. (It also serves me right for not getting my plants in the ground earlier – I wouldn’t be having this problem if my plants had started blooming in early June, like the farmer from whom I bought the tomatoes pictured above.)

    Phyllis, if worst comes to worst, I’ll ship you some of my black cherries (if they ever ripen). Seriously. But I don’t think it will come to that. Like a toddler, they just need a little redirection of all that growing energy.

  4. July 28, 2010 4:25 pm

    Gorgeous and easy to eat but we are going to have to send you to Italy stat I mean you need a full on Caprese intervention 😉

  5. SoupAddict permalink
    July 28, 2010 8:42 pm

    Habanero, I know, I know, it’s just terrible. For the months of July and August, I probably eat some variation of a tomato mozzarella salad every day. Every day. 8) It’s like shoes for some women. Even when my own tomatoes ripen and start tossing out more than I could ever eat and share, I’ll still buy tomatoes at the farmers’ markets. That’s just not normal….

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