Marinated Tomatoes With Herbs and Mozzarella…

It’s the season for tomatoes, and if you planted any in your yard or on your patio you probably have a bunch sitting around right now. I just love this time of year. There is nothing, and I mean absolutely nothing, like a home grown tomato. The kicker is they all ripen at the same time and you’re faced with what to do with all of them.

My patio tomatoes

I used to grow tomatoes in my yard and on my deck, but since we moved to a condo I can only plant a couple of pots of patio tomato plants. This year, much to my surprise, my two little plants are producing like crazy! So above and beyond putting them in a salad or serving them with a generous dollop of tuna salad or making salsa or pasta sauce, I wanted to try something a little different. Hence this recipe…

I like this recipe for a variety of reasons. First the finished product is out of this world but also it’s so quick and easy to put together and after that you just let your tomatoes marinate on the kitchen counter for a couple of hours and you’ve got something very special. Second if you plant a pot of herbs like I do it is a great way to use them. The recipe couldn’t be cleaner and the end result is divine. So let’s talk marinated tomatoes with herbs and mozzarella.

Lesson Learned 1 – Cut the tomatoes at least 1/2 inch thick: The marinating process will break the tomatoes down slightly so if you cut them too thin you’ll wind up with mush. Make sure to cut them thick to avoid that. Also make sure you don’t layer them but rather put them in a single layer. That way you’ll be able to get the full effect of the marinade.

Lesson Learned 2 – There is a trick to how long you marinate the tomatoes: As I mentioned earlier, the marinade will slightly break down the fibers in the tomatoes so if you plan to marinate them on the counter only do it for a couple of hours. If you plan on marinating them longer put them in the refrigerator. I know, the cardinal rule is never to put tomatoes in the refrigerator but this time you can if you need to marinate them for a longer period of time.  If you put them in the refrigerator take them out in plenty of time to bring them back to room temperature. That way you won’t be left with cold, mushy tomatoes.

Lesson Learned 3 – Make sure to finely mince the garlic: You’re using raw garlic in the marinade so you’ll want to finely mince the garlic or crush it. That way you’ll get the benefit of the garlic without having to worry about taking a big bite of raw garlic which is not very flavorful.

Lesson Learned 4 – Feel free to vary the amount of balsamic vinegar to taste: The general rule of thumb when making a vinaigrette is one part vinegar to three parts oil. I like more tang, so whenever I combine vinegar and oil I always add more vinegar than called for. Make sure to taste your marinade before you pour it on the tomatoes and if you like more tang don’t be afraid to add more balsamic vinegar. It’s always better to start off on the safe side and add more from there. Most of the recipes I looked at used less than what I’ve listed here but I think using less makes the marinade taste too oily tasting.

Lesson Learned 5 – Turn the tomatoes over mid-way through the marinating process: When you pour on the marinade all of the herbs will be on top of your tomatoes. Mid way through marinating them turn the tomatoes over and spoon some of the liquid with the herbs on top. That way you’ll get the full effect of the marinade on both sides.

So basically you slice the tomatoes, make the marinade and let them bathe in it and throw the mozzarella in at the end. What could be simpler? And the result is fabulous – try it and see!

Marinated Tomatoes With Herbs and Mozzarella...

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Difficulty: Easy
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INGREDIENTS:

4 large tomatoes sliced 1/2 inch thick

1/3 cup olive oil

3 Tbs. balsamic vinegar

1 Tbs. honey

2 Tbs. finely chopped red onion

1 large clove of garlic, finely minced

1 Tbs. flat leaf parsley, finely minced

1 Tbs. fresh basil, finely minced

1/4 ball of mozzarella, sliced and then cubed (again you can add more if you like)

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS:

Cut the tomatoes into thick 1/2 inch slices. Arrange them in single layer in a large shallow dish. In a mason jar combine the oil, vinegar, honey, onion, garlic, parsley, basil, salt and pepper. Put the lid on the jar and shake the mixture vigorously to combine. Pour the mixture over the tomatoes.

Cover the tomatoes with plastic wrap and let marinate for two hours on the counter, or if longer in the refrigerator. (If refrigerated bring the tomatoes back to room temperature before serving.) Half way through the marinating process turn the tomatoes over and spoon the marinade back on top. Before serving, garnish with mozzarella and spoon the marinade over the mozzarella.

Gnocchi Italiano…

I really try to experiment with meals that are quick and preferably only need one pot. This meal fits the bill to a tee. The most difficult part of this meal is the prep, and I’m a prep kinda gal so I enjoy that to the max!

As I mentioned in an earlier blog, we are remodeling our kitchen and this was the first meal I cooked on my brand new stove. I posted a picture of it online and got a ton of oohs and ahhs… one person commented on how beautiful it looked and wondered if that comment was apropos when referring to a stove – well all I can say is of course it is! Here’s my new baby – hello gorgeous!

my new stove

When we moved to a condo, I told my husband I would never move into a place where I could not have a gas stove or cook top. We moved into the model of the development we’re in and of course they had upgraded appliances in the model. The cook top that was is pictured below…

original cooktop

Although the cooktop was sleek looking, I just could not imagine myself cooking on it. Besides not being gas, I couldn’t get over the fact that it looked like I was cooking on Mickey Mouse! We removed it right away. Someone had lived in this condo before. The builder bought it back from the original owners and upgraded it to the model as there were still a few more buildings in the development plan and they needed to be able showcase what one of the units looked like. As part of the sale negotiations we asked the builder to leave the old gas cook top that had been replaced. We used it until we began the process of remodeling and finding our new stove. This is what we used in the interim:

the old cooktop

Our new stove is an LG. What’s interesting about it is the inside is purple.

The inside of the stove

Supposedly this color provides maximum heat transfer as opposed to a dark interior. I’m not sure that is the case, only time will tell. What I am sure of is I cooked two meals on/in it already and it seems to work perfectly. So I am a happy camper!

Now, let’s get back to the recipe. This meal combines ground sweet italian sausage with mini potato gnocchi, fresh mozzarella an your favorite marinara sauce. It couldn’t be simpler but it is oh so good. So let’s talk gnocchi italiano…

sweet italian sausageLesson Learned 1 – I used ground italian sausage but you can also use prosciutto: My husband needs to eat foods that are easy to chew and so I used ground italian sausage. If you choose to use prosciutto, use about 5 thin slices. Add them to the onions once they are translucent and cook them until they are crisp. Then follow the remainder of the recipe as is. I guarantee it will be equally as good.

Lesson Learned 2 – Pay attention to the type of marinara sauce you use: I used a tomato basil sauce. The brand I used was more expensive, but gnocchi and marinara saucewhen I looked at the ingredients they were all natural. There were no names that I couldn’t pronounce. Natural and organic foods are much higher in cost. That is unfortunate as I hate to think about all these chemicals we can put in our bodies every day. But heck, before I was born my mother drank and smoked and I’m still here. I guess the idea is why tempt fate. The better you take care of yourself the better your chances are of living a longer healthier life.

This recipe is pretty straightforward so there’s not many lessons learned to share. Start it off on the stovetop, finish it off in the oven, and enjoy an easy, flavorful meal!

GNOCCHI ITALIANO...

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: Easy
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INGREDIENTS:
Gnocchi Italiano

Gnocchi Italiano

1 small onion, diced

1 Tbs. basil infused olive oil (can use plain EVOO)

1 pound ground sweet italian sausage

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 cup tomato basil sauce

1 one pound package potato gnocchi  (I used the mini sized gnocchi)

1 tsp. italian seasoning

1/8 cup grated parmesan

1/4 lb fresh mozzarella, sliced

Sliced green onions for garnish, optional

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat the oven to 375. In a large oven proof skillet heat the olive oil. Add the onions and cook until translucent. Add the italian sausage and cook through, about 5-7 minutes. Meanwhile, cook gnocchi according to package instructions.

Add the garlic to the cooked italian sausage and let cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Drain the gnocchi and add to the italian sausage mixture. Stir in the tomato basil sauce, italian seasoning and parmesan. Mix well.

Add the mozzarella slices to the top of the mixture. Place the oven proof pan in the oven and cook until the mozzarella has melted and the gnocchi mixture is bubbly, approximately 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and garnish with green onions. Serve immediately.

Add the cooked gnocchi to the sausage mixture

Add cooked gnocchi to the sausage mixture.

Gnocchi, sausage and sauce mixture.

Gnocchi, sausage and sauce mixture.

Add the mozzarella slices.

Add the mozzarella slices.

Ready to serve

Ready to serve

Gnocchi Italiano

Gnocchi Italiano

Chicken Meatballs In Cheesy Tomato Cream Sauce…

I was in search of somewhat quick comfort food meal that was a little bit out of our ordinary faire. My husband suggested trying to make meatballs with ground chicken and I took it from there.

Meatball IngredientsI’d never made meatballs with anything other than ground beef so I was interested to see how they would turn out. They were fabulous, but I have to admit they still tasted like a regular old meatball to me. It was fun experimenting with a different spin on meatballs and the meal was absolutely divine with very little fuss.

So let’s talk chicken meatballs in cheesy tomato cream sauce…

The meatball mixtureLesson Learned 1 – Although in the end they may taste similar, working with ground chicken is different than working with ground beef: Because ground chicken is leaner you have to be careful how you mix it and how much you cook it. Otherwise you will be stuck with dry, tasteless meatballs.

First of all, to keep the mixture moist I added a tablespoon of sour cream and 1/4 cup milk along with an egg. I will warn you now, the mixture will be very moist as seen in the picture to the left. I started out with 1/2 cup of panko bread crumbs and wound up adding about 1/4 cup more. Keep in mind you do want the mixture to be very moist, probably more moist than you think. Although it seemed a little strange at first, this consistency produced tender, juicy meatballs.

You also want to make sure you don’t overcook the meatballs. I formed the meatballs using a well rounded teaspoonful of the mixture and rolling them in my hand. I arranged them on a pan lined with foil and sprayed with cooking spray. They went under the broiler for about 6 minutes and then I cooked them through in the simmering tomato sauce. The pictures below show the meatballs before and after going under the broiler.  There appears to be only a slight difference. You put them under the broiler to “set” them so when you take them out they are only somewhat cooked. But trust me, the tomato sauce will do the rest of the work and you’ll have fabulous and tender meatballs in the end.

Meatballs Before Going Under The Broiler

Meatballs Before Going Under The Broiler

How The Meatball Should Look After Coming Out From The Broiler

How The Meatballs Should Looking Coming Out From Under The Broiler

Lesson Learned 2 – Use good ingredients: I always remember Ina Garten saying that you need to use good ingredients in order to have the best outcome. I am especially referring to the tomato sauce you use. With this particular recipe I used a tomato basil sauce. Now you may turn up your nose on “organic” but I actually spent time reading the labels on many sauce jars and was surprised by some of the ingredients in them. I finally settled on a little known organic brand that had only fresh clean ingredients and no chemical sounding names. It was a little more expensive, but I felt good about what I was eating and the sauce was divine. It’s your choice. I just get a little uncomfortable putting ingredients into my body that I cannot even pronounce.

Mozzarella PearlsLesson Learned 3 – Use only a small amount of mozzarella pearls: I was happy to discover that you can buy mozzarella in a size called “pearls”. They are much smaller than mozzarella balls and just the perfect size for this recipe.

You may think you want to put in more than what is called for in the recipe but I would advise against it. Too many mozzarella pearls and your sauce will get overly thick and gloppy. You want the flavor of the mozzarella and a slight texture of melted stringiness in the cheese. In this case a little goes a long way. If for some reason you add too much and your sauce gets too thick, simply add some of the pasta water to the pot to thin the sauce. Or you can use chicken broth and get the same result.

You can find mozzarella pearls in the dairy case next to the fresh mozzarella. This was quite a find for me as I can envision using them in a lot of other recipes.

Adding Mozzarella Pearls To The Sauce

Mozarella Pearls Added To The Sauce

The biggest part of the work in this recipe is assembling the meatballs. If you are pressed for time prepare the mixture the night before. It takes no time to roll them up and put them under the broiler. The rest is basically adding them to the sauce, heating the sauce while cooking the pasta and adding the mozzarella at the end. My husband gave a two thumbs up to this recipe, so you know it has to be good!

Chicken Meatballs In Cheesy Tomato Cream Sauce…

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Difficulty: Easy
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INGREDIENTS:

1/2 – 3/4 cup italian style panko bread crumbsChicken Meatballs In A Cheesy Tomato Cream Sauce

1/4 cup whole milk

1 lb. ground chicken

1 egg

2 Tbs finely grated onion

1 Tbs. fresh parsley, minced

1 Tbs. sour cream

1/2 tsp. kosher salt

1/4 tsp. freshly cracked black pepper

2 cups pasta (I used a pasta called orecchiette)

Pasta water, if necessary to thin out the sauce

1 jar organic tomato basil sauce

1 Tbs. tomato paste

1/2 cup heavy cream

1/2 cup mozzarella pearls

Fresh parsley or basil, chopped for garnish.

DIRECTIONS:

For the meatballs: Set your oven rack in the center of the oven and put the broiler on high. In a large bowl combine 1/2 cup panko, milk, chicken, egg, onion parsley, sour cream, salt and pepper. The mixture will be very moist. If too moist add a little more panko being careful not to make the mixture too dry. Take rounded teaspoonfuls of the mixture and roll into meatballs approximately one inch thick. Spray a foil lined pan with cooking spray and arrange the meatballs on the pan. Broil the meatballs for 5-6 minutes until very lightly golden.

Cook the pasta according to the package instructions. While the pasta is cooking put the tomato sauce in a deep pan, and heat. Once the sauce is warmed through add the tomato paste and stir until combined. Add the cream and simmer for a few minutes. Add the meatballs and simmer for an additional five minutes. Add the cooked pasta to the sauce. Add the mozzarella pearls and stir until melted. If pasta sauce is too thick, add some of the pasta water to thin it.

Sprinkle with fresh herbs and serve immediately.

Tomato Basil Sauce With Orecchiette Pasta

Chicken Meatballs In A Cheesy Tomato Cream Sauce

Chicken Meatballs In Cheesy Tomato Cream Sauce…

Simple Oven Roasted Tomatoes…

As I have chronicled in my past couple of blogs, this year has been the year of the tomatoes in my garden. Every day I seem to pick about 5-6 large tomatoes and at least a cupful of yellow grape tomatoes. And because of that I have been on a quest to let no tomato go to waste.

I can’t say it enough, the tomatoes in my garden have been nothing short of phenomenal (for a quick read on the heirloom tomatoes I am growing in my garden this year go to my tri-tomato salsa recipe). You just don’t get tomatoes like this in the grocery stores. When the inside of the tomato looks like the picture below, you know you’ve got a juicy, flavorful tomato. The inside of the tie-dyed tomato

I’m surprised my skin isn’t turning red from all of the tomatoes I’ve been eating lately. They are just so darn good and this recipe is a great way to enjoy them. It’s so simple to make and once it’s cooked you feel like you’re eating a decadently thick marinara sauce topped with gooey cheese.

Lesson Learned 1 – You can use different herbs to flavor the tomatoes: The first time I made this recipe I used some lemony thyme. I have a big pot of it growing on my deck. The second time I used fresh basil (also growing in a pot on my deck) and cut it into lardons before sprinkling it on the tomatoes.

Either the way the process couldn’t be simpler. Cut the tomato into half inch slices, sprinkle with herbs and top with mozzarella and shaved parmesan. You can sprinkle a little italian seasoning on the top or leave it plain, then bake and finish it off with a drizzle of good olive oil before you serve (I used white truffle olive oil).

Lesson Learned 2 – Cut the bottom of each end of the tomato to create a flat surface: Since the tomatoes are round, your end pieces will not lie flat on the baking sheet. That’s really no big deal except that if the tomato is too wobbly the melted cheese can fall right off of it onto the baking sheet. All you need to do is cut off a small portion of the round end and the tomato will lie flat.

I would also recommend spraying your baking sheet with a cooking spray so the tomatoes won’t stick to the pan. I actually line my pan with foil and then spray the foil.

Simple Oven Roasted Tomatoes...

  • Servings: 3 Slices Per Each Medium/Large Tomato
  • Difficulty: Easy
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INGREDIENTS:

Fresh tomatoes (1 tomato per person)

Fresh Herbs (I used lemony time or basil, chopped – 1 Tbs. per tomato)

Shredded Mozzarella

Shaved Parmesan (I think it melts better than grated parmesan)

Italian Seasoning, if desired

Good olive oil for finishing (I used white truffle olive oil)

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Wash the tomatoes and cut them into half inch slices. Cut a small portion off the bottom of the end slices so they lie flat on a baking sheet. Spray a baking sheet with cooking spray.

Place the tomato slices on the baking sheet. Sprinkle the herbs on top of each slice. Top each slice with mozzarella and shaved parmesan. Put the mozzarella on first and top with parmesan. The mozzarella will help the parmesan stick on top of the tomato. Sprinkle with italian seasoning, if desired.

Bake for 15-20 minutes or until the cheese starts to turn golden brown. Plate the tomatoes and drizzle with some good olive oil. Serve immediately.

Top Each Slice With Herbs

Top Each Slice With Herbs

Top With Mozzarella And Shaved Parmesan - Sprinkle With Italian Seasong

Top With Mozzarella And Shaved Parmesan – Sprinkle With Italian Seasoning

Simple Oven Roasted Tomatoes