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Pinch Me, I Am Dreaming! (Caprese Salad with Basil-Orange Vinaigrette)

There have been some exciting new developments here in SGCC Land lately, and I’m thrilled to finally be able to tell you about them!  I’ve held off until I knew that they were sure things, because…well…because, I don’t like to count my chickens before they’re hatched.  I’d hate to make a big splashy announcement to you all and then have to take it back because things didn’t work out as planned!  Though, if you follow me on Facebook [1]or Twitter [2], you might already know what I’m talking about.

My first bit of news is that I’ve been hired as a contributing writer by Creative Loafing [3]!  In case you don’t know, Creative Loafing is a weekly newspaper published in various venues around the U.S.,  focusing on local culture, and including restaurant, food, film, movie, arts, and entertainment news and reviews, blogs and Podcasts.  I’ll be writing for their Sarasota [4]and Tampa [5]online and print editions.  Of course, my focus will be on food and recipes, but the editors have graciously left the door open for me to contribute on other topics as well.

Creative Loafing

This is big, big, big for me because writing has always been a special passion of mine.  From the time I could hold a pencil I was always scribbling down little poems, plays and short stories.  In high school I was the editor of our school’s literary magazine, which won state and national awards.  I often fancied myself authoring the next great American novel, but life got in the way, as it often does.  One of the reasons I started blogging in the first place was to hone my writing skills and see if I could recapture my “voice”.  I’m so delighted to be able to share that voice in another venue, especially one as cool and relevant as Creative Loafing!

My second announcement is that I’ve been hired to teach Italian cooking classes at my favorite Italian gourmet market.  How cool is that!?!?  I’ve enjoyed shopping at Casa Italia [6] for many years, and I’ve even written [7]about the store [8]on this blog before. The proprietors, Nita and Raj, are lovely and gracious people who always go the extra mile to keep their customers happy and well fed!  So, when they approached me about joining their team of instructors, I jumped at the chance!

Casa Italia has offered various kinds of cooking classes to the public for years.  Of course, as an Italian market, most of them focus on Italian cuisine.  However, they also offer classes on their native Indian cooking as well. In fact, if you stop by the shop on any given Thursday, you will smell the welcoming, fragrant aromas of simmering curries and other Indian delights that permeate the space.

Some of the luminaries that have graced Casa Italia’s kitchen include the doyenne of authentic Italian cooking, Marcella Hazan [9] and her equally talented son, Giuliano Hazan [10], who has authored several popular cookbooks of his own and also currently offers classes there.  It is quite a thrill to be slicing and dicing on the same table as those two!

My first class was held this past Friday, and I am happy (and relieved) to say that everything went very smoothly.  My pupils and I prepared a fabulous four course lunch that included: Caprese Salad with Basil-Orange  Vinaigrette, Roast Chicken with Pancetta and Olives [11], Orzo Primavera and Tortoni [12]for dessert.   I’m a firm believer in learning by doing, so I quickly put them all to work, encouraging them to dive in and  get messy. They a great job, and I’m really proud of them!  Since I was kind of busy, Raj was kind enough to snap some photos of me and the class in action.

The whole experience was tons of fun for me and I think that everyone else had a great time too.  I can’t wait for round two!  I’ll keep you posted!

For now, here’s a super simple recipe for the Caprese salad we made.  We used sliced juicy, sweet Campari tomatoes, basil and fresh mozzarella, which we also sliced and cut into small rounds.  Then we made adorable little Caprese “towers” with them and drizzled a sweet and spicy basil-orange vinaigrette on top.  The vinaigrette is just wonderful and can also be used as an accompaniment to chicken or fish.

Caprese Salad Stacks with Basil-Orange Vinaigrette


For the Basil-Orange Vinaigrette:

  • 1 small shallot, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon fresh red chili or jalapeno pepper, seeded and minced
  • 1- 1 1/2 cups loosely packed fresh basil leaves
  • 3 tablespoons fresh orange juice (You can use blood orange juice if you are lucky enough to find blood oranges.  If you do, you might need to increase the sugar a pinch as they are a little more bitter than regular navel oranges.)
  • 2 tablespoons champagne vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

For the Caprese Salad:

  • 8 small ripe tomatoes, each sliced into 4 thin slices
  • 1 pound fresh mozzarella, sliced thinly and cut into rounds to fit tomatoes (a cookie cutter works well for this)
  • 1/2 cup loosely packed fresh basil leaves
  • Salt and pepper to taste


For the Basil-Orange Vinaigrette:

Combine all ingredients except olive oil in a blender or food processor.  Blend until completely pureed.

With the machine running on low speed, slowly drizzle in the olive oil until well blended.

For the Caprese Salad:

Layer the tomatoes, mozzarella and basil leaves to make little stacks.  Season each with some salt and black pepper to taste.

Drizzle the vinaigrette on top.

Makes 8 Caprese Stacks.