While we would love to spend the next few days gorging on pecan or pumpkin pie, mashed potatoes, greens, candied yams, loads of gravy and more – I’m throwing you a curve ball today by providing a couple of my favorite healthy recipes that feature tomatoes and fresh Thyme.
The two recipes can be served as appetizers or as a side dish with grilled chicken or fish. But be warned: both are so good – you could even serve them as desert!
The caprese salad recipe listed below is from an Ina Garden recipe in her cookbook, Barefoot Contessa Back To Basics. When tomatoes are in season in the summer, they are the best. This caprese salad recipe uses plum tomatoes, which you can buy year round. The secret to making this dish delightful is “low and slow” – roast the tomatoes for more than two hours at 275.
Before sliding them into the oven, sprinkle the tomatoes with some Kosher salt and drizzle with olive oil and balsamic vinegar – roasting the tomatoes brings put the most amazing flavors.
After they cool, add to the plate of roasted tomatoes, slices of fresh mozzarella cheese and some julienned fresh basil and you have yourself an easy dish that can be served any time before as an app or during the meal as a sidedish. Don’t count on leftovers – these will be gobbled up faster than M and M’s by my husband.
The second vegetable dish I am featuring today is Stuffed Zucchini. It comes from Ina Garden’s Barefoot Contessa Make It Ahead cookbook. Sidetracking for a second – growing up, we had a huge garden in our backyard. It was overflowing with beans, tomatoes, peppers, and zucchini. In the summer my mom put zucchini in everything – spaghetti, eggs, bread, stews, as a side dish – you name it! These stuffed zucchini’s would have been a crowd favorite had the Barefoot Contessa been around back then.
This dish can be served as an appetizer or a side dish at dinner. The homemade croutons in this recipe are easy and taste amazing when paired with the heirloom tomatoes and fresh grated Parmasean cheese.
12 plum tomatoes, halved lengthwise, seeds (not cores) removed
¼ cup good olive oil, plus more for drizzling
1½ tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 large garlic cloves, minced
2 teaspoons sugar
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
16 ounces fresh salted mozzarella
12 fresh basil leaves, julienned
Preheat the oven to 275 degrees.
Arrange the tomatoes on a cookie sheet, cut sides up, in a single layer. Drizzle with the olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Sprinkle with the garlic, sugar, 1½ teaspoons salt, and ½ teaspoon pepper. I also added a few shakes of red pepper to give it a little kick.
Roast for 2 hours until the tomatoes are concentrated and begin to caramelize. If your stove is tied up (with a turkey?), put down a double layer of foil and put them on the grill at a low setting for a couple hours.Allow the tomatoes to cool to room temperature.
Cut the mozzarella into slices slightly less than ½ inch thick. Layer the tomatoes and the mozzarella on a platter and scatter the basil on top. Sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper and drizzle lightly with olive oil. Serve at room temperature.
6 small zucchini, ends trimmed
1 cup sourdough or french bread, crusts removed
1/4 cup sliced scallions
1 1/2 cups diced heirloom tomatoes
2 teaspoons FRESH thyme sprigs
2 teaspoons fresh minced garlic (2-3 cloves)
2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Kosher salt & fresh ground black pepper
1 1/2 cups grated Gruyere cheese (4 ounces)
Preheat oven to 450 degrees
Bring large pot of water to a boil. Add zucchini and simmer for 8-10 minutes. Remove zucchini and place on a plate lined with paper towels. When cooled, slice zucchinis lengthwise, scoop out seeds/insides carefully and place with green peel up (in order to drain any remaining moisture). Toss the inside of the zucchini or chop coarsely and add it the mix of tomatoes, etc. later.
Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a 10 in. sauté pan, add the french or sour dough pieces of bread, and cook over med-low heat for 7-8 minutes until golden. Be careful not to burn. Toss frequently and watch closely. Place aside in a bowl.
In same pan, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil and add the scallions, tomatoes, fresh thyme sprigs, and garlic. Cook for 4 minutes or so, stirring frequently. Fold this mixture in to the croutons. Add the Parmesan, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, 1/2 teaspoon pepper, and toss.
Place the zucchini close together in a 10X14 in rectangular baking dish. Sprinkle with salt/pepper and with a small spoon fill the zucchinis with the mixture.
Sprinkle Gruyere cheese on top and bake for 10-12 minutes or until lightly browned. Serve hot.
Why Travel, Cooking and DIY? A creative type, I have always loved painting and decorating as a hobby. Upcycling is a real passion. My mom was a Home Ec teacher when we were growing up. I learned a lot from her and because I love hosting get-togethers, I had to step up my game in the kitchen as well. And lastly, my love of travel comes from my Grandma Schmitt.
An Illinois native, I worked in the White House Communications Agency early in my career (President Reagan), prior to returning to Illinois State University to finish my undergraduate and Master's. After a couple of post-graduate internships (minor league baseball and Big Ten Conference), I then worked in college athletics full-time for more than 22 years -- first at the University of South Carolina for 15 years and then at Santa Clara University for the last seven years. We moved to Tampa, Florida in Dec., 2016 after spending 8.5 years in Northern California.