I’m going to hit you with a proud mama bear moment. As many of you know, I do not have kids of my own, but I consider my students to be my kids for now. I teach an after school cooking club at my high school and last Saturday our team competed in a culinary competition at a community health festival. We had prepared for weeks leading up to the event: testing recipes, practicing team work and communication, running through their presentation, checking and double checking safe knife skills.
We chose a Caprese Sandwich w/ Balsamic Reduction as our final recipe to submit for judging, which I could not have been more thrilled about. The flavors of fresh mozzarella, tomato and basil are perfection. To add a few unique twists to this classic combination, we used basil in the form of fresh pesto and balsamic reduction to add a little sweetness. Proud mama bear moment came when my students were announced as the winners of the cooking battle!
The funny thing is that I tried to get into Home Ec class in high school, but it was full. I begged the teacher to let me in and told her about how crazy passionate I was about food and still, nothing. In my small town there was no after school activities dedicated to the culinary arts, so I was left to my own devices to experiment in my kitchen. I feel so blessed and honored to be able to provide a space and community where students can come to learn more about food, become confident in the kitchen and use the kitchen as a creative outlet.The inspiration for this post were the two left over packages of fresh basil I took home after the event. So this post is dedicated to my wonderful students who inspire me to be honest to who I am and relax more in the kitchen.
Caprese Salad w/ Balsamic Reduction:
- 2 1/2 cups lightly packed spinach, washed
- 8 large red lettuce leaves, washed and roughly chopped
- 1/4 cup fresh pesto dressing (recipe below)
- 2 tsp balsamic reduction, separated (recipe below)
- 10 cherry or small pearl tomatoes, quartered
- 5 small mozzarella balls (ciliegine), quartered
- Make your balsamic reduction and pesto (if you are making from scratch).
- Place spinach and red lettuce leaves in a large bowl and toss with the fresh pesto, making sure everything is well coated.
- Next add 1 tsp of balsamic reduction and toss.
- Add 3/4 of the tomatoes and mozzarella (save the rest for the topping) and lightly toss.
- Place salad on a large plate, sprinkle remaining tomatoes and mozzarella then drizzle with the last tsp of balsamic reduction. I like to add fresh cracked pepper too!
Fresh Pesto Dressing:
- 1/4 cup walnut halves
- 1 clove garlic
- 2 1/2 cups fresh basil leaves, washed and patted dry
- 1/4 tsp of salt & pepper
- juice of half a lemon
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- In a food processor, process the walnuts and garlic for about 1 minute.
- Add the basil, salt, pepper, and lemon juice. Process for about 30 seconds and scrape down the sides.
- Next add the olive oil through the top as the processor is on. You will have to stop and scrape down the sides, but process until smooth and well mixed (about 2 minutes).
- 1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
- 1 tsp honey
- In a small saucepan bring the balsamic vinegar and honey to a very light boil. As soon as you see it begin to boil, turn it down to a very low heat and let simmer for about 15 minutes or until it begins to thicken, stirring every few minutes. If you keep it at too high of a heat, it will become rock hard when it cools. Take it off heat and let cool while you prepare the salad. The reduction should resemble a syrup consistency.