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Beat the Heat Series ~ Insalata Caprese with Basil Pesto

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So the summer in hyderabad is fully upon us on its way out (which must tell you how long this post sat in drafts) and as always, I have a reputation to keep and whining to do… remarkably this year tho, I handled the heat much better than the Kman… he was  whining more than me, and mine are some really big boots to fill…

Anyhow, this is a salad I almost always order when we eat at an Italian restaurant and that in Hyderabad means many many restaurants! every five star hotel worth its salt needs to have an italian restaurant plus the many stand alone ones… I marveled at the simplicity and freshness of this salad, where the few ingredients stand out and flavour and texture is everything…

I lamented (there is a pattern here, I am not cantankerous for nothing!) that there is no good buffalo mozarella to be had outside of pricey restaurants….that was till I found out this Punjab made fresh mozarella in water… at I ate most of it as it was… saving the rest to make this salad… at 230 rupees a box its a little pricey, but thats the most expensive component of the salad. Make this and feel like a domestic God/ Goddess!

While the temperature still is higher than we’d like, serve this and enjoy it as a nice quick appetizer

Insalata Caprese – Serves 3

3 Large Ripe tomatoes (choose the sweet variety, I used bangalore/ salad tomatoes)

100 grams of fresh buffalo mozarella

20 fresh Basil leaves, washed and drained on paper towels

2 tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil

1/4 cup basil pesto (recipe follows)

For the Pesto

1 cup of fresh basil leaves, picked, washed and drained

1/5th cup of roasted pine nuts (replace with almonds or walnuts if you dont have pine nuts)

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

1/4 cup parmesan cheese grated

a pinch of salt and pepper

1 garlic clove, peeled

Making the Pesto

Put all the ingredients except the olive oil and basil into a food processor and pulse till the nuts and cheese are pulsed evenly. Then add the washed basil leaves and pulse a few more times. Scrape down the sides of the jar and add the olive oil and pulse some more until you get a nice creamy pesto. I do this in 5-6 short pulses to get a fairly creamy pesto. Some people prefer some texture in their pesto, so check midway between pulsing the ingredients and stop when you like the consistency.

This makes 3/4 cup of pesto and can be used immediately. If you want to freeze the pesto, do not add the parmesan cheese. when you defrost the pesto and are ready to use it, mix in finely grated parmesan cheese.

To Assemble the Caprese Salad

Layer the sliced tomato and mozarella cheese. Add a freshly washed leaf of basil. Assemble over a plate till you use up all the sliced tomatoes and mozarella. Sprinkle freshly ground pepper over it scantly (optional, I did not do this). Drizzle over with Extra Virgin Olive Oil. Spoon over the pesto and enjoy it fresh.

Alternatively, make small stacks of the tomato, mozarella, basil leaves, season with scant salt and pepper, drizzle over some EVOO and spoon over the pesto.

Peanut and Tomato Chutney

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I dont know how or why, but I have unwittingly eliminated fresh coconut from my pantry for the last few months. We stopped adding it to the araichavittu sambhar and the assorted poriyals. but what i miss most is to dip my idli or dosa into some nice tangy spicy chutney. there is only so much of kaaram podi / milagai podi i can eat. So a few days ago, taking advantage of the extra tomatoes at home, I made this chutney. Its delicious and worth the effort of roasting all the ingredients before grinding.

Peanut and Tomato Chutney (makes 5 generous servings)

1/2 cup peanuts, roasted without oil till the colour changes

1 cup chopped tomatoes ( i used the local variety)

3 green chillies, slit

2 tablespoon curry leaves

2 tablespoons coriander leaves

1 medium onion, roughly chopped

1/2 teaspoon cumin (whole)

a few grains of whole fenugreek seeds

a small marble of tamarind

salt to taste

1/2 cup water

2 teaspoons oil ( i used gingely oil)

for the tadka

a few curry leaves

1/2 teaspoon whole mustard seeds

1-2 dried red chillies

1/2 teaspoon urad / black gram dal

in a pan, dry roast the peanuts and set aside. heat one teaspoon of oil, add the whole cumin seeds and fenugreek seeds and fry a few seconds.  add the onions and green chillies and fry till the onions are beginning to change colour. add the tomatoes and fry till they begin to shrink. set it aside and cool it completely.

In the jar of the blender, add the peanuts, cooked onion and tomato, tamarind, curry leaves, coriander leaves, water, salt. Pulse till you get a smooth paste. remove to a serving bowl. in a small pan, heat the remaining teaspoon of oil. fry the urad/ black gram dal till it is pale golden, add the dried red chillies and wait for a few seconds till they begin to change colour. add the mustard seeds and allow them to splutter, finally add the curry leaves and turn off the heat. Pour this over the ground chutney. Mix and serve with idli or dosa. This can be stored in the fridge for upto 3 days.

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