It’s that time of the year where it’s not exactly summer or fall. I’m dying to wear boots and sweaters but I’m not looking forward to winter. The other day I was watching Quantico (Awesome show btw. Priyanka Chopra is absolutely stunning.), and there was a scene with slushy streets in NYC. My mind immediately curled itself up into a ball thinking, “No…… I’m not ready for another winter.”
Luckily, we still have some summer produce to cling on to the last whisper of summer. I found some heirloom tomatoes at Trader Joe’s this past week and they were available in so many different hues that a rainbow was the first thing that came to my mind. I’m almost embarrassed to say that nearly every ingredient that I used in this recipe is from Trader Joe’s (even the paprika!), but imo a one-stop shop is always good news.I love Caprese salad because it’s a solid balance of flavors. But more than half of the time, I’m disappointed when I order it in a restaurant. The ratio to tomato, cheese, basil and balsamic glaze is usually off. I suppose everyone has their own idea of what makes the perfect ratio and that’s why making it at home is the best option all around. (It’s usually cheaper too.) Heirloom tomatoes are super sweet and juicy so you want to use a very sharp knife to slice them neatly. Tip: when cutting the little tomatoes, cut them vertically (from the stem end) to get the prettiest shot of the seedy insides. I wanted to balance the sweetness with a hint of heat and it turned out well. I may be biased because I love hot sauce on almost anything and everything. Even if you forgo the spicy glaze and opt for plain balsamic vinegar, it’s still delicious since vegetables + cheese = always tasty.
Rainbow Caprese Salad with Spicy Balsamic Glaze
2-3 lbs. heirloom tomatoes in various colors, shapes and sizes
16 oz. fresh mozzarella
1 bunch fresh basil
extra virgin olive oil
spicy balsamic glaze (recipe below)
- Wash and slice your tomatoes.
- Slice your mozzarella.
- Pick out the freshest leaves from your basil bunch. Save the tiny ones for garnish.
- Line the plate with basil leaves and top it with the mozzarella slices.
- Arrange the tomato slices from red to green, starting from the darkest red.
- Put some basil slices in between the tomatoes.
- Sprinkle the tomatoes lightly with salt and drizzle the olive oil.
- Drizzle the balsamic glaze and top with the remaining basil leaves.
Spicy Balsamic Glaze
½ c. plus ½ tbsp. balsamic vinegar (6% acidity)
½ tsp. red pepper flakes (if you just want a hint of spice, dial it back to ¼ even ⅛ tsp. if you’re sensitive)
¼ tsp. smoked paprika
freshly ground black pepper
¾ tbsp. sugar
- In a small pot, add ½ c. balsamic vinegar, red pepper flakes, paprika, sugar and as much black pepper as you want.
- Boil down the vinegar until thickened, about 3-5 minutes. Keep a close eye on it so that it doesn’t burn.
- Add ½ tbsp. balsamic vinegar to up the acidity that you lost.
- Cool and use as desired.
The first day of spring came and went with a generous dose of snow in New Jersey and there are still patches of snow here and there. Like many of you, I’m craving warm weather like a breath underwater. I kind of feel like I’m at the end of a race and I can see the finish line, but no matter how fast I run it’s not getting any closer.
As I stared blankly into my fridge on a frigid Saturday morning, I saw a bag of lemons I bought a couple of weeks ago. Isn’t it funny how we tend to forget things in the crisper drawer? I swear, once I found a few grapes that were beginning to become raisins. Okay, that was kind of gross. Anyways, something about the bright yellow of lemons conjured up thoughts of springtime, warm weather, fresh flowers, sandals, dresses without tights, picnics and longer days, and I just had to use them right away.
These lemon basil macarons are made with lemon macaron shells and filled with a vanilla basil buttercream and homemade lemon curd. The flavor of the basil is subtle and hits you at the very end. I should tell you that as the days go by, the basil becomes less and less pronounced so it is better eaten sooner than later. I thought about incorporating a stronger basil flavor by steeping some basil in warm milk before making the buttercream, but I got cold feet. In fact, I wasn’t sure if lemon and basil would make a good pairing. I’m a little wary of adding a savory element to my desserts but it turned out very tasty. If you love basil though, it might not be enough of a “punch” for you. I suppose you could add more basil to the frosting to increase the basil factor.
For the lemon macaron shells, I used crystallized lemon. I happened to have some True Lemon lying around and I think it’s a better alternative to using lemon juice. As you know, macarons are very finicky and I’m not quite sure how the extra liquid in lemon juice would affect the batter. If you want, you can omit the crystallized lemon in the recipe. I feel that the lemon curd has enough of a citrus punch but if you can use it, I recommend it.
The lemon curd recipe makes more than you need, but it’s so delicious that I’m sure you won’t mind having extra around. I’m already thinking of another recipe to use it in. These macarons really taste like springtime in your mouth. I think you’ll love it.
Lemon Basil Macarons
212 g. almond meal
212 g. powdered sugar
172 g. egg whites, divided to 82 g. and 90 g (aged, if possible)
236 g. sugar
158 g. water
1 ½ tsp. crystallized lemon
yellow gel food color
green gel food color (optional: for decorative brushstrokes)
vanilla basil buttercream (recipe below)
lemon curd (recipe below)
- Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone mats.
- In the bowl of a food processor, add the almond meal and powdered sugar and pulse until thoroughly combined.
- Sift the mixture over a large mixing bowl, throwing out the lumps as they appear. Add the crystallized lemon and 82 g. of the egg whites and stir until you get a thick mixture.
- In a small pot attached with a candy thermometer, combine the sugar and water over medium heat and boil until the syrup reaches 200˚F.
- Once the syrup reaches 200˚F, start whipping the remaining 90 g. in the bowl of your stand mixer with the whisk attachment on medium speed until soft peaks are reached.
- Once the syrup reaches 248 ˚F, remove the pot off the burner and slowly pour the syrup down the side of the mixing bowl with the egg whites on medium speed.
- Once the egg whites are fully incorporated, increase the speed to medium high until egg whites form glossy, stiff peaks.
- Add yellow gel food coloring little by little until the desire color is reached.
- Mix a ⅓ of the egg white mix to the almond mixture and stir together until the batter is slightly lighter and less pasty. From then on, fold in ⅓ of the egg white mixture at a time until the mixture “flows like magma”. The mixture should be smooth and run thick ribbons off the spatula.
- With a pastry bag fitted with a ½ in. plain tip, pipe 1¼ – 1½ in. rounds.
- The piped batter may have peaks but should smooth away in a minute or two.
- Let the batter stand until the tops of the macarons are dry to the touch, about 30 minutes to 1 hour.
- Preheat the oven to 275-325˚F. If your oven tends to run hot go for 275˚F, if not then 325˚F.
- Bake 10-13 minutes, until the feet are formed and the tops are smooth. The batter is done when you slightly wiggle it and it starts to come off of the parchment paper / silicone mat.
- Once cool, mix a tiny bit of water with a small amount of green gel food color and with a small (food use only) paintbrush, paint small strokes onto the macaron shells. Let dry.
- Pipe a small circle of vanilla basil frosting on the outer border of a macaron shell. This creates a dam so the lemon curd does not ooze out.
- Fill the center of the macaron with the lemon curd and top with another macaron shell.
Vanilla Basil Buttercream
½ c. whole milk
3 tbsp. flour
⅛ tsp. salt
4 oz. (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
½ c. sugar
½ tsp. vanilla extract
3 tbsp. fresh basil, finely minced and stems discarded
- In a small pot over medium heat, whisk milk, salt and flour until combined.
- Continuously whisk mixture until thickened to a pudding like consistency.
- Once thickened, strain through a mesh strainer into a bowl with a spatula to remove lumps.
- Place a piece of plastic wrap on top of the flour mixture (to prevent skin from forming) and put bowl into the fridge until fully cool.
- In a mixer bowl fitted with the whisk attachment, mix the sugar and butter on high speed until fluffy and pale about, 5-10 minutes.
- Add the chilled flour mixture and continue to whip on high speed until the sugar is completely dissolved and the mixture is no longer gritty, about 5-10 minutes.
- Add the vanilla extract and minced basil and mix until combined.
5 egg yolks
1 ¼ c. sugar
⅓ c. lemon juice
zest of 4 lemons
1 pinch of kosher salt
4 oz. (1 stick) cold butter, cut into 8 pieces
- Start a double boiler by adding water in a small pot and bringing it to a simmer.
- In a medium metal bowl, whisk egg yolks and sugar until smooth. (Make sure the metal bowl is wider than the small pot of water.)
- Add the lemon juice, lemon zest and salt and mix until combined.
- Place the metal bowl above the small pot of simmering water and whisk until the mixture is thickened. About 8 minutes or around 170˚
- Once thickened, remove from heat and stir in butter one piece at a time, making sure each piece has melted before adding the next.
- Place a piece of plastic wrap on the surface of the curd to prevent a skin from forming and refrigerate up to 2 weeks.
*Macaron recipe adapted from Bouchon Bakery by Thomas Keller, Sebastien Rouxel.
** Lemon curd recipe adapted from Alton Brown.