Heritage Tomato Salad with Goats Cheese and Balsamic

Lovely tomatoes that taste of the sun, fragrant basil, cool goats cheese and spiky balsamic – a simple but really good salad for a hot summer’s day.

Heirloom Tomatoes

You can get tomatoes all year round in the supermarket, but most of them have been grown in a poly tunnel and travelled half way around the world and taste of nothing. A tomato that has been grown in sunshine is a wonderful thing and should be celebrated.

These big, juicy, seasonal tomatoes don’t have a long shelf life, so if you are lucky enough to get hold of them, make sure you enjoy them while they are at their best.

Heirloom Tomatoes and Basil

One of the best ways to enjoy them is a simple salad. This one uses very few ingredients as the tomatoes are the star of the show.

You could dress the tomatoes with an olive oil and balsamic vinaigrette, but simple balsamic vinegar, reduced until thickened, is really good here. Reducing the vinegar, really insensifies the depth and flavour. You could of course, just buy a bottle of ready made balsamic glaze which is the speediest option, but it’s really worth making your own for the best flavour.

Tomatoes and basil

I’ve made a large platter here, which is nice for people to help themselves, but this could easily be scaled down for two people to enjoy.

Ingredients:
Assorted heritage tomatoes – as many as you like, I’ve added a few cherry tomatoes too
Goats cheese – around 100g per person
Fresh basil
Balsamic vinegar – around 3/4 of a cup
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Method:
To reduce the balsamic vinegar, place in a saucepan, bring to the boil and reduce the heat to low and leave for around 10 minutes or until thickened. Set aside and then refrigerate until you are ready to use.

Tomato Salad

Slice the tomatoes and arrange on your serving plate, sprinkling a little sea salt and freshly ground black pepper over the slices.

Tear some of the basil leaves and make sure some of the leaves are between the layers, leave some of them whole too.

Heritage Tomato and Goats Cheese Salad

Break up the goats cheese and scatter over the tomatoes, you can remove the rind, or leave on.  I’ve tucked a few crumbles of cheese in between the tomatoes too.

Drizzle over the balsamic reduction and serve immediately.

Tomato Goat Cheese Salad Balsamic

This is one of the nicest salads to enjoy on a hot summer’s day.  You can scale up or down, add pita chips if you would like some crunch, or slices of toasted baguette make a nice addition too.

Tomato Goat Cheese Salad

Some very cold white wine would be another nice addition to this salad!

Caprese Skewers

For the perfect party food, these skewers are easy to make and serve.  A portable salad on a stick that is not only colourful, but delicious to eat too.

Caprese skewers4

This is not really a recipe – it’s more of an assembly job – tomatoes, basil, mozzarella, a little seasoning and drizzled with a sweet balsamic glaze.

Caprese skewers1

I used a ready made balsamic glaze for this that clings to the salad perfectly, but you don’t need to buy it.  For a balsamic reduction, just boil a cup of balsamic vinegar until it has reduced by half.  It will become thicker, a little sticky and coat the back of a spoon.

Caprese skewers

Ingredients:
Small tomatoes – I’ve used a mixture of red and yellow cherry tomatoes and jewel tomatoes that I found at the supermarket
Basil leaves – go for the smaller leaves if possible, or you can fold the extra-large ones around the cheese and tomatoes. I got mine from a living plant as the pre-packed bunches tend to have very large leaves.
1-2 containers of small mozzarella balls (bocconcini)
Balsamic glaze
Italian seasoning with chilli
Salt and pepper to taste
Bamboo or metal skewers – I used 18cm bamboo skewers

Method:
Toss the bocconcini with a sprinkle of the Italian seasoning and then simply thread the tomatoes, mozzarella balls and basil alternately on the skewers.

Sprinkle over freshly ground black pepper and a little salt if desired and drizzle over the balsamic glaze and serve.

Caprese skewers3

These are so pretty and light for summer entertaining, parties or a barbecue.  Serve with cold white wine, prosecco or a summer punch.

Pan Bagnat – Picnic Loaf

Fresh and delicious, totally portable and perfect for a summer picnic

Picnic loaf uncut

Ingredients:
1 large pain de campagne or any other round crusty loaf. like a sourdough boule
4-5 peppers – I used red and yellow ones
2 courgettes/zucchini, sliced into strips lengthways
1-2 large tomatoes, thinly sliced
400g Taleggio cheese (2 packs), Mozzarella or goats cheese – Brie also works well.
2tbs Basil pesto
3tbs Mayonnaise
Small bunch of fresh basil
Balsamic vinegar
Salt and pepper if desired
Meat option – sliced salami, ham, thinly sliced sausage, bresaola, wafer thin smoked chicken, pulled pork – anything you like, but nothing that might make it tough to cut through – like thickly sliced, air dried cuts. Eat those on the side.

This is absolutely not the traditional recipe for a Pan Bagnat, a traditional speciality from Provence, where olive oil is used and never mayonnaise. This version does use the traditional pain de champagne bread, but the filling can be anything you like really, rather than sticking with tradition. I have used Taleggio cheese this time, which is quite pungent as I had some in the fridge, but most recipes call for mozzarella. Goats cheese, Brie or thinly sliced Swiss cheese works well in this too.

This can be made well in advance of your picnic, I made this the night before so the flavours have time to mingle and develop in time for your outdoor feast. You just need to remember to take a serrated bread knife and a board with you to cut it. You can slice it before you go and re-wrap if you want to travel light.

Method:
Start by roasting the peppers until the skins turn black, I do this over the gas flame and then put them in a bowl, cover with plastic and leave to steam. When the peppers are cool enough to handle, rub off the skins and cut the ‘cheeks’ into thick slices, removing the stem and seeds. You can cheat and buy ready roasted peppers in a jar, but I really do prefer to roast my own.

While the peppers are cooling, heat a griddle pan and grill the courgette slices without oil until you have char marks on both sides. Set aside to cool.

When the vegetables are cooked and cooled, cut the top off the loaf and set to one side. Hollow out all the bread (save for breadcrumbs, croutons etc). Don’t make the walls too thin, or they will be soggy.

Mix the pesto with the mayonnaise and using a spoon, coat the inside the hollowed out shell and the underside of the bread lid.

It’s now time to layer up the vegetables, cheese, basil and a little more pesto mayonnaise.

I always like to start with a base of red peppers, cutting them if needed to fit in the base of the loaf and scattering over some torn up basil leaves.

Then add layers of courgettes, cheese, more red and yellow peppers, sliced tomatoes with a little drizzle of balsamic and more torn up basil leaves where needed. Make sure everything is pushed down and the layers compressed. I like to season with a little black pepper too. If you like a little salt on the tomatoes, then go ahead, but as the Taleggio is quite salty, I don’t bother.

Repeat until everything is used up and squashed down.

Tightly wrap the whole loaf in plastic and weigh it down with a plate and some heavy tins on top. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours, but preferably overnight.

Serve with hungry friends and Pimms, sangria, cold white wine or a non-alcoholic fruit punch.

Picnic loaf slice

You can also do individual versions of these in ciabatta rolls. This way, everyone can have a personalised one.