Inspiration + RECIPE: Mason Jar Caprese

The tomatoes are reaching the end my friends. It’s be a light year for tomatoes thanks to the 22 inches of August rain that fell in Southern Wisconsin, but that doesn’t mean we didn’t love every second of the six weeks we’ve had those red, orange, green, yellow, pink and purple beauties.

It never really matters how long the tomato season lasts because no matter how many days, the whole world seems to stop and my life seems to revolve around them. I made my favorite tomato pie. I sliced them and ate them with salt. I put them on toast and I put them on polenta. I made tomato sweet corn pizza. I roasted and froze twenty quarts of beautiful but blemished tomatoes.  I chopped them up and stuffed them into bell peppers with ricotta and chives. Obviously there were several BLTs.

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There was no shortage of joy in these past five weeks of tomato heaven. Something about the season being short actually propelled me to great new heights of tomato consumption.

But my favorite creation was the one that just happened by accident when I was running late for work and had no idea what to pack for lunch. With half a ball of fresh mozzarella left in my fridge from a small brunch on the farm and a counter full of fresh tomatoes, it seemed obvious what needed to happen. But classic caprese felt impossible since we lost our basil to powdery mildew in the middle of August. Then I spotted the half pound of chives also leftover from the meal I’d hosted.

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Tomatoes and chives is a combination packed full of nostalgia for me. My mom has always kept a massive garden, and the tomato bounty she’d get from thirty plants for our small family of four was truly tremendous. When tomatoes came into peak production, there was almost nothing else we’d eat. She would take the biggest, beefiest fresh tomatoes, blanch them, peel them and hollow them out before stuffing them with butter, fresh chives and a pinch of sugar and throwing them in the oven to roast for 20 minutes.

It was farmstead simplicity at its finest and there was something about those warm tomatoes with chives that has stuck with me my whole life.

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Forget basil, garlicky, fragrant, delicate chives are what the caprese of my dreams is really made of. So, still in a hurry and still very much late for work, I piled layers of heirloom tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, leftover mozzarella and leftover chives into a massive mason jar. I drizzled the whole thing with a hefty amount of olive oil and balsamic before closing it tight. I tossed the jar in my backpack, hopped in the car and headed to work.

To me, these are some of the most beautiful moments I have in my kitchen. There are no fancy ingredients. No googling or puzzling out what to prepare. There are only odds and ends that sit in my fridge begging me not to let them go to waste, and the culinary instincts grown out of nostalgia and the flavors of my earlier years. The best recipes aren’t the ones delicately finessed for hours, slaved over with fancy techniques. They’re the ones thrown together with ease in 5 or 10 minutes because you aren’t sure what else to eat.

-Leek

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Above photo by the endlessly talented Wisconsin From Scratch

MASON JAR CAPRESE

Takes 10 minutes
Makes 1 quart caprese
Serves 1 hungry person for lunch or 2 less hungry non-farming people

1-2 pounds mix of heirloom and slicer tomatoes (if they’re out of season, don’t even bother), cored and cut into thick slices
1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
4 ounces fresh mozzarella ball, halved and cut into thick slices
1 bunch chives, sliced (about 1/4 cup)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper

  1. Grab a quart mason jar (or a 4-cup pyrex or other container). Place 1-2 sliced tomatoes in bottom of container. Layer a handful of cherry tomatoes on top followed by a few slices of mozzarella. Sprinkle with a quarter of the chives. Repeat until you’ve used all ingredients or filled your container (whichever comes first).
  2. Drizzle with olive oil and balsamic. Cover and shake gently so that olive oil and balsamic coat tomatoes throughout.
  3. Sprinkle with salt and pepper just before serving. (I have my own Kosher salt jar and pepper grinder at work for exactly this kind of purpose. I suggest you do the same. These babies are a great deal and very portable– though I like salt with a slightly larger crunch ala Morton).

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