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Salt and Stone: Caprese Salad with Balsamic Glaze

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I fully admit my mind has wandered toward the idea of cozy sweaters and pots of soup with the arrival of September. But summer is still here, and with it a bounty of local produce just begging for our attention. Fall and all its glory is going to have to wait just a couple more weeks. Before the fresh corn, juicy watermelon and tomatoes are gone again for the year, let’s make them the stars of our meals, at least for another week or two.

Sometimes the very best food is absolutely the simplest to prepare. Fresh fruits and vegetables with just a little bit of help from salt or herbs is almost always the most flavorful special way to enjoy them.

This caprese salad along with a loaf of fresh bread is all you need for a meal perfect for celebrating the end of summer. Ripe heirloom tomatoes absolutely sing with a sprinkle of salt. Fresh basil and the easiest balsamic glaze bring the whole thing together and make even the simplest dish so special. Personally, we’ve had this recipe on repeat since my tomato plants started pumping out so many ripe tomatoes; we can hardly keep up.

If raw tomatoes aren’t your thing, take these ingredients and make them into a grilled cheese sandwich. Spread a bit of the balsamic glaze on two slices of bread. Layer the tomatoes, basil and mozzarella between the bread and toast both sides in a buttered pan. When the bread is golden brown on both sides and the cheese is melted through the middle, the sandwich is ready. Slice in half and devour.

• Andrea McCoy writes the column Kitchen Captivated for Yakima Magazine and at The Salt and Stone, a home cooking blog. She writes this column for Thursday’s SCENE section. The Salt and Stone is a nod not just to the essence of cooking, but also to the Yakima Valley. Read more at www.thesaltandstone.com.

Caprese Salad with Balsamic Glaze

4 to 5 large ripe multicolored heirloom tomatoes

1 8-ounce log fresh mozzarella cheese

24 fresh basil leaves plus 1 tablespoon minced fresh basil

1 cup balsamic vinegar

Coarse kosher salt and black pepper

In a small saucepan, heat one cup balsamic vinegar over medium-low heat. Bring vinegar to a soft boil, stirring often. Reduce the vinegar to half its volume, until it’s the consistency of syrup and clings to the spoon, about 5 minutes once the vinegar is at a boil. Remove glaze from the heat and allow to cool in a small glass jar.

Using a very sharp or serrated knife, slice the tomatoes into 1/4 inch-thick pieces. Spread them evenly across the cutting board. When you have all your tomatoes sliced, lightly sprinkle them with kosher salt and a pinch of black pepper. The salt begins to draw the moisture from the tomato and intensifies the flavor. Set tomatoes aside.

Gently wash basil leaves and pat dry with a paper towel. Slice mozzarella into 1/4 inch slices. Arrange tomatoes and mozzarella on a platter in an alternating pattern. Tuck basil leaves in between the tomatoes and cheese. Sprinkle the dish liberally with flaky salt and fresh-ground black pepper. Mince a few basil leaves and sprinkle down the middle of the platter. Use a spoon to drizzle balsamic glaze over the entire dish. Serve on its own or with crusty bread. Serves 6-8.

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