When I'm not writing or watching the Red Sox play, cooking is one of my biggest go-to hobbies. I love scouring the web for interesting recipes, and even more, I love attempting those recipes. Some of my favorite food bloggers are great personalities like The Pioneer Woman and Smitten Kitchen. Make sure to check them out, they were so inspirational as I wrote Getting Lucky. Maggie May King, one of the main characters in Getting Lucky, is a professionally-trained chef and she owns her own little Cafe in Sand Point, California, the setting for the story. The Sand Point Cafe only serves breakfast and lunch, and the food they serve is to die for--at least I imagine it is. Maggie is obviously way more proficient than I am in the kitchen, though I think I do pretty well. I thought it might be fun to talk about some of the food Maggie makes (and Noah eats!) as we count down to the release of Getting Lucky.
Then I decided to get all ambitious and post recipes and snippets from the book and I even photographed my cooking efforts for your viewing pleasure. Note: I am by no means either a professional photographer or a professional chef. That much is going to be abundantly clear.
Here's a small snippet from the book that references Maggie's Caprese Pasta Salad--this week's recipe.
Sounds tasty, yeah? It really is, I've been making it all summer and I've had zero complaints from the man in my house.
Here's how you make it:
First, you've got to start the pasta onto boil.
Here's me, filling a pot with water. PURE CRAZINESS.
I'm using rotini because it's what I had on hand, but any small dried pasta shape would work well. Bowties, especially, would be adorable, and Maggie would approve of anything that's adorable.
The pasta is now boiling! Make sure you follow the instructions on your package to get your pasta to the perfect al dente doneness. Crunchy pasta is a no go, guys. Also, soggy pasta isn't very good either.
While our pasta is boiling, let's chop up the tomatoes for the salad. Because duh, there have to be tomatoes. Caprese Salad consists of mainly three ingredients: tomatoes, basil and mozzarella. So tomatoes are kind of a given in this situation.
I love these cute little grape/cherry tomatoes, especially when you combine the yellow and the red. The yellow ones are called Sunburst and my grocery store started carrying them about a year ago. I LOVE THEM. They're a little bit sweeter than a traditional cherry tomato, and they're fabulous in this recipe. Plus, the colors look so beautiful together!
I typically slice my baby tomatoes in half. If you want to keep them whole, by all means. Whatever floats your boat. If you don't have/don't want cherry tomatoes and want to dice regular tomatoes, that works beautifully too. Basically, what I'm telling you is that this recipe is mighty hard to fuck up.
Next up is our mozzarella. There's a few ways you could do this, but I like using boccaccini, which are little balls of fresh mozzarella, usually stored in water. They sell boccaccini in the specialty cheese section of my grocery store, but don't be frightened of how pricey some of the gourmet garlic kale cheddar is--boccaccini is not insanely expensive. This time, though, I didn't get boccaccini (ok, I do like saying it, sue me), I got these even cuter little mozzarella balls called "Pearls." You can see the packaging in the upper photo showing the other ingredients. These are even smaller and don't need to even be cut in half. You can just dump them right into the bowl. BUT please remember DO NOT put the water/liquid in. You want to drain them first. You could also cube up a block of mozzarella if you can't find boccaccini.
Look how precious those are! Also, I'm a fan of less chopping. This is a good opportunity to salt and pepper your tomatoes/mozzarella. Both of those items need quite a bit of seasoning, so don't skimp. I'd approximate I used about a teaspoon of salt and half a teaspoon of pepper. We'll add more later, but PLEASE REMEMBER--you can only add seasoning, you can't take it away. So it's best to be cautious and add in small amounts as you go.
Next, we're going to chop the basil. Obviously, it's better if you use fresh basil (fresh herbs are almost always better). But you can buy some decent freeze-dried and dried basil these days, and if you're in a pinch, it's not the end of the world. Some days my grocery store basil looks nasty. I'd grow my own, but that's a disaster waiting to happen.
If you're using fresh basil, roll up the leaves and cut them into narrow strips. Also make sure that you don't chop up the stems. They're gross.
Those go into the trash can, not your beautiful bowl of Caprese Salad.
Next, we're going to drain our pasta, after it's been cooked the perfect amount of time.
Before we put all our ingredients together, it's time to make the dressing.
Start with about half a cup of mayonnaise. Alternatively if you don't like mayo, feel free to use greek yogurt or sour cream or a combo of any of the above. Add in a few tablespoons of olive oil. This gives it a really nice smooth texture and also adds flavor, especially if you use good olive oil. Yes, in a former life I was Ina Garten, the Barefoot Contessa.
Next we add in the balsamic vinegar, which is the secret ingredient (ok, not so secret maybe) that makes this entire dish sing.
I'd also add that using decent balsamic vinegar is important. No need to go out and spend a fortune on vinegar, but please don't buy the $2.99 bottle from the corner 7-11. I get mine at Costco and it's perfectly good. Plus it's enormous so it lasts forever.
Whisk the dressing together. Make sure to taste it to make sure your flavor is good. Don't hesitate to add more balsamic vinegar, you really want to be able to taste it. I think I probably added at least a tablespoon if not two.
Lastly, we're going to mix everything together. Now is a perfect time to taste for salt and pepper and also if you need more balsamic vinegar. I had to add another teaspoon or so of salt and maybe 1/4 teaspoon of pepper.
You can eat it just like this, or it's actually way better if you refrigerate it for a few hours or even better, overnight. That way the flavors meld together--BUT remember before you serve, check it again for seasonings.
Bon Appetit! And don't forget to check in next week for our next recipe, Orange Marmalade Rolls!