Mediterranean caprese salad

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I don't know if we can go back to regular oil-and-vinegar caprese after this. I love a good caprese salad, but I accidentally keep typing "craprese" and that's sort of a fitting description for a lot of them. If the mozzarella is rubbery or cold, if the tomatoes are mealy or our of season, and if the dressing isn't lively and tangy, then they're just...nothing. I mean, they're bad, but more than that they're just absent any flavor or texture or redeeming qualities.

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However, tomato season is upon us, so it's much more likely that your tomatoes will be delicious. And if you have any access to a backyard, side yard, fire escape, community garden, etc, I implore you to plant some basil and mint. Both of these plants are hardy in the summer and will save you so much money at the grocery store. AND, you'll have no excuse not to make the pesto that accompanies this caprese salad (and that you'll want to pour on everything).

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So, we have good tomatoes and a tangy interesting pesto, but what else does this salad need? Well, I also implore you not to serve cold mozzarella. Room temperature is SO MUCH BETTER. If you can get even a decent mozzarella, I think it's improved exponentially by sitting out for a short time (or, if you're also in the middle of our current heatwave, a few seconds?). And, I like to guild the lily by sprinkling a generous amount of crumbled, salty, briny feta on top. Is it necessary? No. Is it delicious? Yes. Should you do it? Without hesitation.

Buy a rainbow of heirloom tomatoes and you have a showstopper for a dinner party that requires basically no effort (I even opted for a pre-cut cheese because I'm that lazy) and better yet, NO COOKING. Did I mention the heatwave?

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We ate it yesterday as Sunday lunch on our back porch with some prosciutto and salami, some Bantam Bread, and white peaches. A glass of cold rose or Sancerre would have made it heaven, but I'm old now and can't day drink without needing a nap and an Advil, so we forwent the wine. Boo.

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Mediterranean caprese salad

4 large heirloom tomatoes
1 large or 2 medium balls of mozzarella
½ cup crumbled feta
¼- ½ cup mint and basil pesto (recipe below)

Mint and basil pesto
1½ cups basil leaves, loosely packed
½ cup mint leaves, well packed
1 large garlic clove (or 2 smaller ones)
1 medium shallot, quartered
2-3 Tbsp lemon juice (juice of 1 large lemon)
1/3 cup olive oil
1 tsp kosher salt

To make the pesto:
Place all of the ingredients except the oil in a large food processor or blender. While the machine is running, pour in the oil and blend until you've reached your desired consistency. Add salt to taste.

To assemble the salad:
Alternate the mozzarella and tomatoes in whatever color combination you like. Top with the mint and basil pesto and sprinkle with the feta.

Serves: 3-4 as a main course, 5-6 as a side

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Sheet pan dinner: Chicken, potatoes, poblanos, and scallions

Sheet pan dinner: chicken thighs with poblano peppers, potatoes, and scallions.

Guys, this is one of the fastest, easiest dinners you can make. As long as the chicken is defrosted (always dicey in our house as I am notorious for leaving things in the freezer), this can be on your table about 30 minutes. Ready...go! 

Fresh poblano peppers and scallions mellow considerably when roasted.

I love a sheet pan dinner for so many reasons. It's fast. The cleanup is easy. Roasting is a simple way to add flavor and texture by using heat to crisp and caramelize everything. And obviously, wrapping things in a tortilla and serving it in a taco truck like this one is a surefire way to get my toddler to eat anything.

AND, this sheet pan is customizable for any dietary need. Want gluten-free? Choose corn or gluten free tortillas. Doing a Whole 30 or following a Paleo diet? Forget the cheese and tortillas altogether or eat this as a hearty salad over greens with avocado and an olive oil and lime dressing. Vegetarian or vegan? Swap in tofu for the chicken or increase the veggies and put the spices directly onto the potatoes. See? Something for everyone.

This Tex-Mex rub is cumin, oregano, chili powder, coriander, garlic powder and salt.

A couple of notes:

  • I've listed two tablespoons of oil in the ingredients, but use the second tablespoon sparingly. The fat that renders from the chicken when cooking is usually enough for the potatoes and other veggies. I spray the parchment with olive oil before adding the potatoes to prevent sticking and then let the chicken fat do the rest of the work.

  • The poblano peppers and chili powder that I've used in this recipe are really mild and fine for my almost-3-year-old. If you're concerned about spiciness, feel free to sub a can or two of roasted poblano peppers that are marked "mild" and don't cook them; just stir them into the hot veggies and chicken at the end. Also, taste your chili powder before using it to gauge its heat. If it feels too hot for your kiddos, swap in an equal amount of paprika or skip it altogether.

Ingredients list: chicken thighs, scallions, poblano peppers, and potatoes. Add olive oil and a Tex-Mex spice mix for a sheet pan dinner that will please the entire family.

Sheet pan chicken with potatoes, poblanos, and scallions

2 lb skinless boneless chicken thighs
2 Tbsp olive oil, divided
1 tsp cumin
½ tsp Mexican oregano (or regular oregano)
½ tsp mild chili powder
½ tsp coriander
½ tsp garlic powder
½ tsp kosher salt
1 lb Yukon potatoes
2 large poblano peppers
1 bunch scallions

Preheat the oven to 425. Cover a large sheet pan with parchment paper or tin foil and set aside.

In a large plastic bag, combine the chicken, 1 Tbsp of olive oil, and the dry spices. Close the bag tightly and shake and squish around to combine and distribute. I like to mix the spices together in a small jar to avoid any pockets of one flavor, but that’s not strictly necessary. Set aside.

Chop your potatoes into medium-small cubes. Mine are about 1 inch long and ½ an inch wide, but every potato is shaped differently. You want your cubes to be small enough that they’ll roast quickly, but large enough that they won’t turn to mush.

Lightly oil the parchment and then spread the potatoes in a single layer on the parchment-covered pan (see note above). Sprinkle the potatoes VERY lightly with salt. (There's a fair amount of salt and spice on the chicken that will transfer to the veggies during cooking, so don't go overboard.) Remove the chicken from the bag and place the pieces on top of the potatoes.

Roast for 12 minutes.

While the chicken and potatoes are cooking, slice the poblanos into thin sticks. Trim the hairy bottoms and any yucky bits from the scallions. Set aside.

After 12 minutes, remove the pan from the oven and scatter the scallions and peppers evenly over the pan. Using tongs, carefully fish out the chicken pieces and place them on top of the scallions and peppers. Put the whole shebang back into the oven and cook for 5 more minutes until a thermometer in the thickest part of the chicken reads at least 165.

Remove the chicken with tongs and set aside. Continue to cook the vegetables for 5 more minutes or as needed to reach your desired doneness. We're usually set after 5 minutes.

See serving suggestions above, but however you eat this roasted goodness, first SPRINKLE ALL OF IT WITH LIME JUICE!

Yield: 4 servings

This sheet pan dinner is delicious served in a taco or on its own. Use corn tacos for a gluten-free meal either way.
Serve this sheet pan dinner as a salad or rice bowl for another healthy dinner option that can suit anyone at your table.