By founder Chris Mattingly
Here’s the story of how my food garden helped forge a relationship with my neighbor, with a little bit of creativity and spontaneity.
A Garden-Fresh Appetizer on a Whim
When we moved to Maryland in 2020, I was anxious about our social situation. Maybe it’s cheesy, but I had a goal to make a connection with a dad or two in my neighborhood — someone I could share my struggles and successes with, someone I could count on and to whom I could offer help.
What I got far exceeded my expectations. We made fast friends with a neighbor family across the street, the kind of friends who are good with popping over for dinner on Saturday night with no prior planning.
It was under these conditions, in August, that this dish was born.
While the kids ran laps between the trampoline and the garden hose, I snuck off to the garden with my youngest (18 months old) to grab what I could. I came away with some fat, bulbous heirloom tomatoes and a couple purple bell peppers, remembered we had some mozzarella in the fridge, and the seed was planted.
It wasn’t until we needed to add basil that I went back out to the garden and did the combination pruning/harvesting task that I love so much about homegrown food. Pinching the growing tips of the basil encourages branching in our plants, which have plenty of room to grow wide and bushy with the leafy herb we love so much.
What’s more, the pinched tops contain the most tender leaves — those which are most suitable for fresh eating and make for a stunning presentation.
- Heirloom, beefsteak, or plum tomatoes cut into 1-2” chunks (or cherry or cocktail plum tomatoes cut in half)
- Extra virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and pepper for the tomato dressing
- Two sweet peppers (bell or corni di toro)
- Extra virgin olive oil, white balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper for the pepper dressing
- Basil tips, washed and dried
- Fresh mozzarella
- Extra virgin olive oil, fig balsamic or other flavored vinegar and Maldon salt
- Preheat your broiler to high, placing the oven rack at the highest position. Alternatively, preheat the grill.
- Salt and drain tomatoes: Place the tomato chunks into a colander and sprinkle with salt to taste. Stir or shake the colander and wait five to 10 minutes for the salt to enter and the water to exit. Shake out the excess water and/or soak it up with a towel. This will make the difference between watered down and vibrant flavors in the final presentation.
- Mix dressing ingredients: For both tomatoes and peppers, use a 2:1 oil-to-vinegar ratio. Don’t add salt to the tomato dressing.
- Broil the peppers: Place on a sheet pan under the broiler on high. Roast and turn until the skins are blackened all over. Remove to a plate and let the peppers cool.
- Slice open the peppers and cut them into thin slices, leaving the stem and seeds on the cutting board. Remove any excess charred pieces of skin according to your preference. Place the pepper slices in a bowl with the pepper dressing.
- Place tomatoes in the bottom of a dish and mix with tomato dressing. Top with the peppers, and top them with the sliced mozzarella. Sprinkle with the basil.
- Drizzle with the fig balsamic and sprinkle with Maldon salt.
The goal is to create shades and layers of flavors within the familiar caprese flavor. The elements are presented together, but with enough separation that your guests can choose their own adventure. Bon appétit!
Do you have a garden?
Then you’ve already tasted the magic of homegrown food. As a full-service food gardening company, we’re here for you if you need help keeping up with the garden, want to take it to the next level with a precise seasonal planting plan, and expert maintenance that makes the most of your space. Book an initial consultation, and we’ll deliver expert advice and get you on the path to living your best life.
Do you want a garden?
You can have one with Backyard Eats, regardless of whether you have the time, expertise, or desire to take on the project yourself. Right now is the perfect time to start planning your project, so don’t delay on booking your initial consultation to get your project on the right track.