Caprese Bowls with Pesto-Rice & Peaches

Caprese Bowls with Pesto-Rice & Peaches

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Hello readers! I’m just going to jump right in because I’m so excited for this post. I don’t say this often because I’m cooking literally all the time, but this recipe tops the charts for me. One of my favorite dishes I’ve ever come up with. While this dish is really simple, there’s a lot going on, so let’s break it down a little.

Last week I made a batch of classic basil pesto. I first used it for a simple pesto fusilli pasta with sun dried tomatoes, artichoke hearts, zucchini and roasted red peppers. Yummy no doubt, but pretty standard. So for the remainder of the pesto, I wanted to come up with something new and original. While at a restaurant a couple weeks ago, I had a delish Caprese salad layered with pesto instead of fresh basil and it was just divine. Additionally, Chop’t (my go-to fast-casual restaurant for inventive and fresh salads) recently added a summer seasonal salad plate that combines the classic Caprese flavors with sweet peaches. A Caprese-style dish with basil pesto and peaches was obviously the direction I needed to go. But the question was, how to make it a meal? Why not toss the pesto with nutty brown rice and make it a rice bowl!? Perfect.

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When I put this dish together last night, Matt was definitely skeptical. I have tried peaches in savory dishes a handful of times, so I wasn’t quite as worried as him. But still, I was eager to see if my recipe came together as deliciously as I had imagined. Short answer, it did. Matt and I both absolutely loved it. The ripe and juicy peaches with the savory basil pesto worked together in perfect harmony. And who doesn’t love mini balls of fresh mozzarella and sweet cherry tomatoes? The last touch was to add mixed greens tossed in balsamic vinaigrette. Ugh, so good. I’m totally obsessed. It’s summer in a bowl!

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I love this dish too because not only are the flavors out of control, but it’s also a balanced and light meal that I don’t feel even the slightest bit guilty eating. It’s naturally gluten-free due to the brown rice and packed with fresh produce (aka tons of vitamins and nutrients). Because of this, I definitely consider it to be a “detox meal”. Yes, it has cheese. But that doesn’t stop me from calling something healthy. No way.

Warning, I’m about to go on a mini rant.

I got a comment on my Instagram one time because I had hash-tagged “healthy” on a simple cage-free-vegetarian-fed-egg and cheese sandwich on a sprouted grain English muffin. Side note: I love commentary, especially commentary that sparks healthy debate so know I’m not lashing out because of a controversial comment. Anyway, the commentor simply said “cheese isn’t healthy”. Since then, the whole “cheese is not healthy” issue is something that really bothers me. Not only because I love cheese and find that it can make many meat-free meals more satisfying, but also because it’s such a  ridiculous notion. Processed cheese in excessive quantities, not good. Anything high in fat and sodium in excessive quantities, not good. Natural, calcium- and protein-rich cheese in moderation? Go for it. The word “healthy” is subjective and can be defined in countless ways. To label cheese as unhealthy is a major generalization that doesn’t take a lot of factors into consideration. Net net, please do not generalize all cheeses and place them automatically in the category of “unhealthy”. At least not to me.

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Anyway, I think I’m getting a little bit hangry here, and I have leftovers from last night’s Caprese Bowls calling my name. Screaming my name actually. Gotta go!

Caprese Bowls with Pesto Rice & Ripe Peaches
Serves: 4   Start to Finish: 20-50 min (depending on rice cooking method)

Ingredients

1 cup dry Brown Rice or 2 cups cooked Brown Rice
Sea Salt
1/3 cup Basil Pesto (get my recipe here or use store bought)
Mixed Greens
1/4 cup Balsamic Vinegar
2 ripe Peaches, pits removed, cut into bite size pieces
1 pint Cherry Tomatoes, halved or quartered
8 ounces Fresh Mozzarella (I used Bocconcini, or bite size mozzarella, each ball halved)

To Make

Cook rice according to package instructions. Cooking dry rice takes about 45 minutes, frozen cooked rice or pre-cooked rice works too. If cooking dry rice, use 1 cup rice with 2-1/4 cups water and 1/2 teaspoon salt.

Meanwhile, prepare pesto (if making from scratch, store bought works too). Cut peaches, tomatoes and mozzarella. Toss greens with vinegar. Divide dressed lettuce between 4 bowls or plates. Evenly distribute peaches, tomatoes and mozzarella over greens.

When rice is finished cooking, add pesto to rice and stir until well combine. Scoop about 1/2 cup pesto-rice onto each bowl. Serve with a fresh basil garnish if desired.

Best of Basic: Basil Pesto Sauce

Best of Basic: Basil Pesto Sauce

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My recent vacation to my family’s summer cottage in Canada was super inspirational in terms of cooking and food. To no one’s surprise we ate well and often, and had a blast in the kitchen along the way. The inspiration for this post came from spending time cooking with my mom, who is the master chef in my life. She is the queen of delicious, simple and inventive cooking and, somehow, everything always tastes better when she makes it.

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One of my favorite meals from the trip was my mom’s loaded pesto pasta with sundried tomatoes, pine nuts, zucchini and fresh basil. She’s not inventing the wheel with this one, as pesto pasta is pretty standard, but watching her throw it together in a matter of minutes made me wonder why I wasn’t taking advantage of how easy a pesto pasta comes together. I’ve said it before, I need more recipes that can be thrown together in a pinch with minimal effort, and this pasta dish falls under that category. I’ll talk more about the specifics of her awesome loaded pesto pasta in a later post, but today, I’m just focusing on the actual pesto.

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In addition to my mom’s pasta, I’ve been seeing and eating pesto everywhere these days. My favorite pizza place in Williamsburg (Vinnie’s) uses a pesto vinaigrette as the dressing on my favorite salad, and while driving from our cottage to the Toronto airport we stopped for lunch where I had an amazing Caprese salad layered with pesto instead of fresh basil. Finally, on a recent trip to St. Louis, I ordered a pizza at my fave spot (called Pi) that drizzled pesto on top just before serving. It’s clear that a go-to pesto recipe is a must.

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I’ve made pesto before, although it’s been awhile, and I’ve seen it made on TV loads of times. It’s quite simple and always pretty much the same. Use a food processor to blend the seven uncooked ingredients and you’re done. Yes, that’s it. It’s literally a five to ten minute process. Those seven ingredients are basil, garlic, nuts, olive oil, salt, pepper and Parmesan cheese. Taking a tip from my girl Ina Garten, I used a mixture of pine nuts and walnuts, but you can use one or the other if preferred. Of course, freshly grated Parmesan is ideal, but I used pre-grated from Whole Foods this time because I didn’t feel like adding another step to the process (the easier the better!). The last thing I will say about pesto is that, in order to keep it looking fresh and bright, remove all air before storing in the fridge or freezer. I find that a layer of plastic wrap directly on top of the pesto before covering with a lid is the way to go.


So without further ado, my recipe for classic and simple basil pesto, to be used on anything from pasta to pizza to salad.

Happy summer and happy Friday!

Best of Basic: Basil Pesto
Serves: 8 (2 tbs per serving)   Start to Finish: 10 minutes

Ingredients

2 cups Fresh Basil Leaves, packed
3 cloves Garlic, peeled and roughly chopped (use 4 cloves if you absolutely love garlic)
1/3 cup total Pine Nuts and/or Walnuts
2/3 cup Olive Oil
Sea Salt & Black Pepper, to taste (I used 1 tsp each)
1/2 cup Parmesan Cheese

To Make

Combine basil, garlic and nuts in the bowl of a food processor or blender. Pulse until fine. While food processor is on, drizzle in olive oil. Add Parmesan, pulse until smooth. Add salt and pepper to taste. Pulse until well combined.

Makes about 1 cup of pesto

Herb Goat Cheese Toasts with Roasted Tomatoes & Red Onion

Herb Goat Cheese Toasts with Roasted Tomatoes & Red Onion

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It’s been about 10 days since my last blog post and I couldn’t be happier to get back in the groove. Since coming back to NYC after a fabulous vaca in my hometown of St. Louis, life has seemed a bit crazier than normal. Maybe it was a few days without cooking gas and hot water (long story), maybe it was the inevitable homesickness that comes after going back home and spending time with my parents, or maybe it was an abnormal amount of items on my to do list last week. Most likely, it was a combination of all three and I was in need of a recharge. You see, I’m a creature of habit and routine makes me feel in control. So because routine is hard to come by as an adult, if I’m feeling a bit out of control, I need to center myself by refocusing on the things in my life that are routine. Thank goodness for Saturday, it was just what the doc ordered.

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Matt spent most of the day playing golf this past Saturday which gave me the day to gain some control. Morning yoga, lots of iced coffee, a trip to the farmers market and quality time in the kitchen. Amazing. But the most amazing part? The simply scrumptious goat cheese and veggie topped toasts I made for lunch using fresh and local bread from the farmers market. The flavors in these toasts are out of control. Tangy goat cheese, sweet basil, bright roasted cherry tomatoes and slow cooked red onion come together to create a total masterpiece. And so simple too!

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I’ve been thinking a lot about simplicity lately. I actually think about simplifying my life quite often. Whether my apartment or my wardrobe, it’s definitely a work in progress but I try to take steps toward decluttering and cleansing whenever possible. But recently I’ve been thinking a lot about simplifying my food and recipes. Don’t get me wrong, I love a complicated recipe that takes hours of time and loads of energy. After all, the kitchen is my happy place. But I really want to come up with delicious and wholesome meals that require less ingredients and less work. I can see my future and it’s going to be busier than ever, so I really have no choice but to start now to come up with lots of easy go-to dishes that allow me a little time in the kitchen to decompress while also getting healthy, clean food on the table quickly and seamlessly.

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Making a toast (aka an open face sandwich) is the perfect base for a simple dish. You can really top a good quality slice of bread with any combination of flavors. It’s kind of like a pizza, kind of like a sandwich, so what’s not to love? This recipe for Herb Goat Cheese Toasts with Roasted Tomatoes and Red Onion is the first of many toast recipes and the perfect dish to kick off my effort to create delicious and simple recipes for when life gets crazy.

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Herb Goat Cheese Toasts with Roasted Tomato & Red Onion
Servings: 4   Start to Finish: 45 minutes

Ingredients

1 pint Cherry Tomatoes
2 cloves Garlic, peeled & minced
Olive Oil
Sea Salt
1 large Red Onion
8 ounces Plain Goat Cheese
1/3 cup fresh Basil Leaves
4 thick Slices Fresh Bread (I love the whole wheat Peasant Round Loaf from Baker’s Bounty)

To Make

Remove goat cheese from fridge to soften.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Cut tomatoes in half. In a bowl, toss tomatoes with chopped garlic, 1 teaspoon olive oil and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Spread tomatoes out onto baking sheet in a single, closely packed layer. Bake for 10-15 minutes. Remove from oven, toss, and bake again for another 30-35 minutes.

When the tomatoes go in the oven, start caramelizing the onion. Slice onion into half moon slices (1/4″ to 1/2″). Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium heat in a medium skillet. Add onions, toss to coat with oil and to separate the layers. Cook for about 10 minutes. Reduce heat to low or medium-low. Add 1/4 teaspoon salt and 2 tablespoons water to onion. Cook for 40 minutes, stirring occasionally, until onions are soft and sweet. Add a tablespoon or two of water if the onions are getting too dry.

While tomatoes and onions cook, mix goat cheese with chopped basil leaves. Set aside. When tomatoes and onions are cooked, remove from heat to cool. Drizzle one side of each bread slice with 1/2 teaspoon oil and a pinch of salt. Toast in toaster oven or under broiler until lightly golden and crisp.

To assemble toasts, spread each slice of bread with 1/4 of the herbed goat cheese mixture. Divide tomatoes and onions evenly over toasts. Serve cold, warm or at room temp. Garnish with more fresh basil.