Even though we had a winter day in May here in Utah, it’s starting to feel like summer. And that means BBQ grillin’ time and summer foods! These Caprese salad skewers are perfect bites of freshness and assembly is as easy as 1…2…3!
Made with fresh mini mozzarella balls, skewered with tender basil leaves and juicy tomatoes and drizzled with balsamic vinegar. Tip: You can use a plain balsamic vinegar or try our secret ingredient–pomegranate balsamic vinegar from a local Ogden restaurant called Hearth on 25th! You can also find it online here.
This stuff is delicious! This simple appetizer will have people coming back for more and I know they won’t be able to eat just one!
This was one of those meals that fell together as I was raiding my fridge in search of quick, non-cereal dinner option. I had been out of town on a week-long East coast road trip and was too busy (read: lazy) to go to the grocery store to replenish my barren refrigerator, and eating out again was the last thing I wanted to do. You know how it is, after a road trip sometimes you just want “real food,” that is cooked in a house, and has to be eaten with a fork. It’s only natural after a week of trail mix, apples, donuts, Swedish Fish, and Coke, right?
So as I stared deeply into the refrigerator, noticing all of the things that I probably should have thrown away prior to said trip, I saw some Trader Joe’s ravioli perched on top of a two week old birthday cake. Seeing this as a solid start to my meal I grabbed it and noticed that it was a fancier version of ravioli than I typically buy. This was a lemon ricotta flavor. Intrigued and excited about this new flavor I began to think about what I could pair with it. Obviously you can’t go dump regular old tomato sauce on the delicate flavors of a lemon and ricotta, so the jar of pasta sauce was out. Next I thought about making a light cream sauce, but quickly realized I had no cream or milk in the fridge. Bah! And then out of the corner of my eye I saw my little ole basil plant sitting in the living room. I moved it into the living room so it could get more sun and have a fighting chance at survival in this “black thumb” household. And you know what? It was still alive! (Largely in part due to the graciousness of my awesome roommate that watered it for me while I was out of town, so thanks Em).
The little grocery store basil plant was actually flourishing and needed to be harvested. Perfect! Lemon and basil are a perfect combo. I decided to keep the sauce light so the light, fresh flavors of the basil and lemon could shine through and used a little garlic olive oil (side note: are you using flavored olive oils?? If not, do it! They are game changers, for sure), sea salt, cracked pepper, and some Pecorino Romano cheese that I had laying in the fridge. Pecorino is a hard sheep’s cheese with a great salty flavor. I’m a sucker for the fancy cheese station at any grocery store and love trying new flavors and types of cheeses. One thing that is awesome about buying those little fancy blocks (as opposed to the generic pre-shredded cheeses) is that they seriously last forever. Obviously it depends on the cheese, but I’ve had this Pecorino Romano block for over 6 months and it’s still flavorful and mold-free. Just sayin… Also, the Pioneer Woman says to never buy pre-shredded cheese. Always buy the block and shred it yourself. Your taste buds will thank you, I promise.
Ok, so moral of the story is…
Randomness and creativity pay off in the kitchen
Flavored olive oils—go try ‘em
Fancy cheese last forever and can snazz up any plain-jane meal
When it comes to cheese buy the block and shred yourself
Enough chatter, let me give you the deets for this super simple, super easy, super quick meal.
1 package (or two if you’ve got a large crew) of Trader Joe’s Lemon Ricotta Ravioli
1-2 grilled chicken breasts, sliced or shredded (if you’re looking to add a little more substance to the meal, I didn’t this time)
4- 5 fresh basil leaves, cut into long, thin strips
2 teaspoons garlic olive oil
1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil (you can do all garlic olive oil if you want a real punch of flavor)
1/3 cup Pecorino Romano cheese (or parmesan, mozzarella, whatever you like), use shavings or grated ( I prefer larger pieces of cheese so that you get a nice bite of flavor)
Salt and cracked pepper, to taste
Bring pot of salted water to boiling. Once water is boiling add ravioli from package, keeping the heat high enough to allow a rolling boil to continue.
Cook pasta for 3-4 minutes until al dente. Keep your eyes on the prize here and don’t get distracted. Three minutes is not enough time to multi-task and do something else, I promise. Mushy ravioli is THE WORST. The pasta will get soggy, it will tear easily, and before you know it the delicious filling is bursting out and you have goulash instead of ravioli. And let’s be real, nobody wants to eat that.
Once pasta is cooked, place in colander, drain and shake off excess water, and place in serving bowl.
Add the three teaspoons of olive oil and gently stir until ravioli is well coated. Depending on preference you may want to add a little more or a little less. Just follow your heart on this one. You want the pasta to be lightly coated so it doesn’t stick together and so it has some great flavor from the garlic olive oil.
Add cut or shredded chicken (if desired). Note: If you decide to add chicken you will likely need to use a little more olive to coat the chicken as well.
Add cheese, basil, and lightly toss with ravioli to mix well. Add salt and pepper to taste. Note: if you are using a salty hard cheese like a pecorino or a parmesan you will likely need less salt than if you use a mozzarella.
Bring on the flip flops, BBQs, sunscreen and pool time. Memorial Day is on it’s way and in my book that means summer is practically here. Everyone loves summer, duh, but one of the reasons I love it is for the food. Summer is full of simple, fresh, healthy food. And ice cream. Those sunny days make me crave salads, fruit and grilled anything. And let’s be honest, you know you’ll be going to a few BBQs this summer and sometimes the old pasta-salad-with-Italian-dressing-cucumbers-tomatoes-olives gets a little humdrum. This fresh watermelon salad will liven up any potluck spread and it is guaranteed to elicit some recipe requests. Oh, and did I mention that it’s easy?? Like, really easy. Fresh watermelon + basil + pine nuts + olive oil + balsamic vinegar + salt + pepper, that’s it.
Perhaps for some of you, adding savory ingredients like olive oil, salt, pepper, and basil to a sweet, summery fruit feels weird. I hear you. But trust me, it works. The vanilla fig balsamic keeps the sweetness of the dish in-check and adds an exciting depth of flavor, while the olive oil brings a richness that seems to smooth the flavors together, the salt enhances the natural watermelon flavor, the pepper gives it a gentle kick, and the basil adds freshness. If basil and watermelon were on a color-wheel of flavor they would definitely be complimentary colors. They are the “Ken and Barbie” power-couple of the kitchen if you ask me. And a flavor duo that should be the anthem to your summer.
Let me pause for a minute to talk about the balsamic we used from “Our Best Bites”. It’s no ordinary balsamic (if you’re in a pinch you can definitely use regular balsamic, but it won’t be quite the same). Have you guys heard of these ladies? I’m sure you have. They have some go-to, no-fail great recipes on their blog and have expanded their brand with their own product line of oil and vinegar and other kitchen awesomeness. But guys, seriously. Their vinegar and oil line is so good and a perfect way to enhance simple flavors. The rosemary olive oil is one of my favorites (hmm, perhaps I’ll make it a sweet pick…). I put it on any vegetable I roast and it’s downright delightful. They also have a blood orange olive oil that will turn a boring leafy salad upside down and jalapeño olive oil to spice up any dish in a flash. Go check them out. They aren’t even paying me to say that, promise.
Okay, now let’s make this salad!
Fresh Watermelon Salad with Basil and Fig Balsamic
1/3 cup basil, cut in long, thin strips (chiffonade)
1/3 cup pine nuts, toasted
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon Our Best Bites Vanilla Fig Balsamic
kosher salt, a few dashes to taste
fresh cracked pepper, to taste
To start off you’re going to have to tame the watermelon beast and chop it up. I dread this process because it’s a juicy mess and my knife never seems sharp enough to battle the thick watermelon and rind. But alas, it must be done. So roll up your sleeves and let’s get to it. It will be worth it. A great tip I learned somewhere along the way (probably some Food Network show) is to cut your watermelon on a rimmed cookie sheet. It keeps the juice from flowing all over your countertop and onto the floor. It’s been a game-changer for me in the watermelon department.
Next, chiffanode the basil. Chiffa-what? Chiffanode. It is a fancy word for cutting into long, thin strips and is actually quite easy. Stack all the basil leaves on top of each other and then roll up your leafy pile into a basil-like cigar. Take a sharp knife and start cutting the “cigar” into thin strips. When you’re done you’ll have long, thin pieces that unroll and are ready for the salad.
Lastly, toast pine nuts on medium heat in a frying pan for a couple of minutes until light brown. Warning don’t try to multi-task at this point. It won’t work. They burn quickly! Keep your eyes on the prize here, people.
To assemble place the watermelon into a large serving bowl and add basil, olive oil, vanilla fig balsamic, a good pinch of salt and a bit of fresh cracked pepper to taste. Mix all ingredients together. If you want it to look extra-awesome garnish the salad with a few additional pine nuts, a bit more basil, and a little more salt and pepper on top. Take a bite. Then take a picture. Duh. Doesn’t everyone take a picture after they make a culinary masterpiece?