Seasonal Cooking with Rita Calvert~The Local Cook

The amazing news: Homestead Gardens has tested growing a few varieties of heirloom tomatoes in their greenhouses this winter. The harvest is on and those multicolored freeform globes are sweet and amazing. At his workshop last Saturday, Gene Sumi suggested I try one--just  to believe. I bit in as if an apple. Whooppeee-INCREDIBLE and even more unbelievable at $1.99 per pound! So the news had to come out before you see the recipe below for a simple spectacular salad. The heirlooms are superior in plain, simple and  raw treatments rather than cooking them. The supply should last until the Spring Garden Show in March. By the way, you can also get the fresh herbs for the salad at Homestead Gardens--even in February.

Gene Sumi's Workshop~Starting Vegetables from Seed

Great is was! We asked so many questions, I'm sure Gene was exhausted. Of course we went overtime as well. He explained the individual seed cell planters to the growing material which he made clear is very different from dirt/soil that we find outside. That growing guru told us how and why so many new seed varieties are available. It is a matter of supply due to the surging interest.

The plethora of vegetable, herb and flower seeds Homestead Gardens now carries will make your head spin and will take a few hours of your time to browse. But it's fun time. You chat about seeds and anecdotes with the folks sorting through and of course, get real excited for the brighter warmer days soon to come.

Last but not least, we should all give a big thanks to Homestead Gardens and staff who make these events so interesting AND comfortable. They put a lot of effort into every gig. From the handouts, tablets and pencils to the complimentary seed packet we received, it was a most worthy affair.

Caprese Salad with Mixed HEIRLOOM  Tomatoes (Tomato and  Fresh Mozzarella Salad)

Serves 4 to 6

Insalata caprese (literally, the salad from the Italian island of Capri) is the star at a very naturally beautiful composed layout of summer bounty. The salad was created in the 1950s at the Trattoria da Vincenzo for regulars out for a light lunch. They'd order a just-picked tomato and fresh fior di latte (cow's-milk mozzarella — no buffalo on Capri). The salad has evolved on the island to include a few leaves of rughetta (wild arugula) and a pinch of oregano, both local products and of course, optional. Everywhere else in Italy it takes the form of tomato, mozzarella and basil so choose your style.

The dressing is always a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil — only. No vinegar here as it would overwhelm the delicate flavor of the cheese. Because this salad is so simple, the glorious fresh ingredients, especially the cheese, shine.

  • 2 pounds vine-ripened tomatoes in various colors (about 4 large), sliced 1/4 inch thick
  • 1 pound fresh mozzarella, sliced 1/4 inch thick
  • 1/4 cup packed fresh basil or arugula leaves, washed well and spun dry
  • whole leaves fresh basil
  • arugula leaves and fresh oregano, if desired
  • 3 to 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • kosher salt to taste
  • freshly ground black pepper to taste

On a large platter arrange tomato and mozzarella slices and basil leaves, alternating and overlapping them. Drizzle with oil and sprinkle with arugula and oregano, if using. Season salad with salt and a few twists of the pepper mill.


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