Although school’s out for summer (cue the Alice Cooper!), our weather in the Rocky Mountains remains firmly in Spring mode. We haven’t been able to graduate from our rain boots yet, and it’s making us a little cranky. Heck, we even had an inch of hail in our yard last week, which was not great news for my newly purchased basil plants. Those suckers got pummeled. So we’re currently undergoing basil planting round 2 in the garden. Luckily, fresh basil is relatively cheap and totally worth it.
The cool weather means that summer tomatoes are going to be late this year. Really sweet, swoon-worthy tomatoes demand blisteringly hot afternoons and clearly we’re not even close. I’m hoping for July, but even that might be pushing things a bit.
Things are even slow at the Boulder Farmer’s market, arguably the most awesome farmer’s market in the state. I made my first hopeful trip up there last weekend, and there weren’t that many vendors setting up tents. Usually things are bustling and hopping by this time of year, but it was a pretty sleepy affair. Most of the ones there were still selling spring wares: garlic scapes, ramps, asparagus, pea shoots, tender little turnips and beets. Those things are fine, mind you, but I’m ready for a little more variety.
One thing the market was full of? Dogs. This never fails to crack me up, because there are signs all over the Boulder Farmer’s market saying: Please Leave Your Dogs at Home. Keep the Market Sanitary! And yet every third or fourth person at the market has a fuzzy, canine companion on a leash or in a wagon or peeking out of a purse. Clearly, to Boulderites, “no dogs allowed” means “no dogs allowed except mine.” I really don’t mind, because I love dogs and enjoy petting them and looking at the different shapes and sizes of them, but it’s amusing.
Sadly, there was no sign of the Sister’s Dumplings tent (oh my goodness, Sister’s Dumplings are pure nirvana and worth the trip to Boulder just for those alone) but the Tres Pupusa tent was there, so I loaded up on green chile and cheese pupusas for the freezer. My greedy little stomach can’t wait to dive into those. There were tons of local honey vendors, which was a welcome sight, and we had fun sampling the different varieties. I bought some tender eggplant and some sprightly asparagus and just when we were reaching the end of the market, I saw it: the lone heirloom tomato vendor. I got embarrassingly excited when I saw that tent. I bought an obscene amount of red, orange, green and yellow tomatoes. I knew I had buffalo mozzarella in my refrigerator and basil in my garden and my thoughts turned, as they often do in the summer, to all things caprese salad.
I live on caprese salad in the summer. Give me a heaping platter of caprese, a glass of chilled rose and a good hunk-o-gluten and I’m a happy girl.
There was just one leeetle problem (well, besides the gluten issue, which has yet to be resolved). Those heirloom tomatoes, so pretty on the outside, were just okay when I cut into them. Just okay farmer’s market tomatoes, while better than anything you can get in the grocery store, still have no place in a proper caprese salad. Proper caprese salad is the essence of simplicity, and if you don’t have the best balsamic, the creamiest and freshest of mozzarella, the juiciest, sweetest tomatoes…well, don’t bother.
These tomatoes needed a little more help. A bit of a flavor injection to help them along. So, what’s the answer, you ask?
The answer is in the vinaigrette. If you take okay tomatoes and slather them in a punchy, salty, flavor-packed vinaigrette, and let them hang out for about a half hour, bathing in that sassy pool of goodness, the result is a damn good salad.
In this case, I got out the quality olive oil and the good vinegar, tossed in some pungent olives, meaty sun-dried tomatoes, some garlic and anchovy love and a few other things, whizzed ’em up in the blender and doused my tomatoes liberally. Then you need about 30 minutes of patience before you dig in. Have a glass of that nice rose and kick your feet up. If you have friends over, do as we did last weekend, dig out the Cards Against Humanity and laugh yourself silly.
Then tear some basil and add some nice feta or fresh mozzarella, a little freshly ground pepper and dig into that salad, which will be totally worth eating. Munch away and watch as the inevitable afternoon storm clouds roll in, and decide that life is still pretty great. Summer will get here in her own sweet time.
Kalamata Olive Vinaigrette
makes about 3/4 cup
from Fine Cooking
6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/3 cup Kalamata olives, pitted and chopped
1/4 cup oil packed sun-dried tomatoes, chopped
3 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar
1 medium garlic clove, grated
1/2 teaspoon anchovy paste (optional)
1/2 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes
freshly ground black pepper and kosher salt to taste
Whir all ingredients in a food processor or blender until emulsified.