Friday, July 17, 2009

Caprese Salad with Basil Oil and Balsamic Reduction

On July 4th, we hosted our gourmet group of 10 people.  I placed tiny vases of red, white and blue flowers on the table - all cut from my garden. Each couple received a garden-inspired kitchen towel as a hostess gift.
For the first course, I served this Caprese Salad with Balsamic Reduction and Basil Oil - made with my very own basil grown from seed.

For the second course - a delicious new recipe.....Jamie Oliver's Pasta Carbonara with Pancetta, and Baby Zucchini and Thyme from my garden (2 thumbs up from the husband). This could be a meal in itself! You may not be able to tell from this photo but there are torn bits of zucchini blossoms in the mixture:

Here are the recipes for this simple garden dinner:

Caprese Salad with Balsamic Reduction and Basil Oil

Adapted from Chef Roy Harland
Serves 4
Printable Recipe

2 lbs Heirloom or Stem-On Tomatoes
8 oz fresh mozzarella cheese - in your favorite size
About 12 basil leaves
Basil oil (recipe follows)
Balsamic vinegar reduction (recipe follows)
A nice sea salt & freshly ground black pepper

Balsamic Vinegar Reduction (I halved this for 2 and it still made more than enough):

1 cup Balsamic vinegar
1 cup dry red wine - I used a Syrah
1/4 cup Sherry Vinegar (my personal addition)
1 T brown sugar

Basil Oil:

1 large bunch fresh basil
2 cups extra virgin olive oil
½ tsp. salt

Rinse tomatoes, cores and slice. Cut each mozzarella ball into slices.

Arrange tomatoes & cheese decoratively on four salad plates. Tuck in several basil leaves.

Drizzle each salad with about 1-2 tablespoons of the vinegar reduction & basil oil.

Season with good salt and freshly ground pepper.

Balsamic Vinegar Reduction Instructions:

Heat the ingredients in a small sauce pan over medium heat. When mixture comes to a boil, reduce heat and bring to a simmer. Cook until syrupy, but do not allow to caramelize. Mixture should yield about ¼ cup. It should coat the back of the spoon when it is done.

Basil Oil Instructions:

1 large bunch fresh basil
2 cups extra virgin olive oil
½ tsp. salt

In a small sauce pan over medium-high heat, bring four cups lightly salted water to boil. Have another bowl filled with ice water close by.

Remove basil leaves, discarding stems. Place basil leaves into the boiling water and cook for 10 seconds. Remove basil with a slotted spoon and place immediately into the ice bath. Drain basil and squeeze out excess water. Roll basil in paper towels and squeeze to dry. Repeat with more paper towels, if necessary.

Place the basil and olive oil in a blender and blend for one full minute on high speed. Strain the oil through a strainer with cheese cloth. The oil should be very clear and bright green.

Zucchini Carbonara

Adapated from Jamie Oliver
Printable Recipe

As much as I love Jamie's show and cooking, I tried to make this recipe a little easier to follow rather than using a 'fistful' of this and a 'knob' of that :)

Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 medium green zucchini (or 4-6 baby zucchini as I used)
1 Box uncooked penne pasta
2 large egg yolks
1/2 cup heavy cream
Approximately 1 cup of freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Olive oil
5 thick slices of pancetta, or good thick bacon, cut into strips to match size of penne
Small bunch of fresh thyme, leaves stripped
Zucchini flowers - if you grow them or ask from some from a friend who does

Heat a large pan of salted water to boil. Halve and then quarter large zucchini lengthwise. Discard any soft middle parts and slice the zucchini at an angle into pieces about the same size and shape as the penne. Baby zucchinis can simply be sliced finely. Add the penne to the boiling water and cook according to the package dirctions.

To make the carbonara sauce, put the egg yolks into a bowl, add the cream and half the Parmesan, and blend with a fork. Season lightly and put to aside.

Heat a very large frying pan over medium-high heat. Add a few tablespoons of olive oil and fry the pancetta or bacon until dark brown and crisp. Add the zucchini slices and 2 teaspoons of black pepper. You want this to have a kick. Add the thyme leaves and stir, so the zucchini are coated with all the bacon-flavoured oil, and fry until they start to turn golden and soften a slightly.

This next step is very important as you need to work quickly. When the pasta is cooked, drain it, reserving a good ladleful or two of the cooking water. Immediately, add the pasta to pan with the zucchini and pancetta, then remove from the heat and add the ladleful of the reserved cooking water and the egg/cream sauce. Stir together quickly. Do not return to the heat or you'll scramble the eggs.

Serve immediately with the rest of the Parmesan and a little more of the cooking water if needed, to give a silky and shiny sauce. Taste and adjust seasonings. If you have any zucchini flowers, tear them over the top, then serve and eat immediately.


  1. Susan,

    I just finished my post. I love your idea of a garden party. So welcoming and so sweet. Your garden is beautiful and I hope your party is huge success!

    Christi @ A Southern Life

  2. Susan, everything is just so gorgeous! The gardens are breathtaking and it looks like peak time for all those clematis! I have clematis envy ;)

    Beautiful table settings. I love the lighted centerpieces from this year and last year - what a wonderful idea and the table is also very patriotic looking for hosting on July 4th. Your fresh from the garden meals look mouthwatering - I especially would love a serving of the peas and the pasta carbonara! I miss growing sugar snap peas and am already planning where I can squeeze in room for them next year ;)

    Wonderful start to the party and I will join in later in the weekend.

  3. My goodness everything looks picture perfect~

    First... I love how you have all these friends:)And have fun and enjoy life!~

    Second..I loved the past..the almost and the present table settings~
    You are right..the one you chose is you:)

    The food looks appétissant,fresh..and colorful~
    The Clematis are gorgeous!

    Great job~

    Capresely Yours~ M

  4. Your clematis collection is wonderful! What a spectacular show in your garden. Everything is perfect, Susan. A mouthwatering meals served on a gorgeous tablescape. A truly beautiful celebration.

  5. Susan, your gardens are manicured, how I would love to tour them and see every one of those clematis...
    I can see why the area is your favorite, the clematis are amazing!
    Your party on the 4th looks so festive, your guests must have loved it.
    Your mil's china is can use that for your Fall party..:)

    The one you used is perfect, very colorful..and the food..well is is a PARTY!
    Great job Susan! Can't wait for the next party!

  6. Gosh Susan, Your garden party has taken my breath away, your gardens are gorgeous, your tablescapes are totally awesome and your food looks scrumptious. I am so happy I came along. I have not had much luck in the past with Clematis but am inspired now to try again, yours are stunning and sit perfectly with the rest of your beautiful plants and flowers. I will post my GP tomorrow, meanwhile I am going to do another tour right here :-). Happy Weekend, Kathy.

  7. I just love your yard! It is so beautiful and spacious. Your flowers and plants look so lush and pretty. And your food, simply delightful! Thanks for inviting me to your garden party!

  8. Susan, I've been anxiously awaiting your Garden Party post, and it was worth the wait.

    I DID post a link to Ricky Nelson on mine. ... I've been singing that song (at least what I know of it) for weeks.

    I never tire of seeing your clematis ... as I've mentioned before I don't think they like our weather. Yours are huge and GORGEOUS. ... The poppies among the clematis is like a real-life impressionist painting. BEAUTIFUL.

    Susan, what a great idea to rent at 72" table. Your MIL's china is beautiful and would have been lovely, but the one you used does seem more like you. The food looks and sounds wonderful. ... Great Garden Party.....

  9. I love it all...each and every inch. I'm so happy you showed us so much of your garden! Love the long shots. I'd be so happy walking around looking at all the clematis and making my wish list! Love the 4th of July table. It has a very nautical feel to me. And your mother in laws dishes are very pretty but I agree the second table is more YOU! Elegant yet contemporary. Great light meal. I'm aiming for something similar! The peas have my mother watering. Great post!!! I can't wait to see everyone elses. I won't be doing mine until tomorrow evening or maybe Sunday but you can bet I'll be here!

  10. Fabulous garden and tablescape! I enjoyed seeing all your pics and how you explained everything. Like that you showed the china you "might" have used but decided not to (additional eye candy!) Your food looks delicious! Would so love to be a guest!


  11. Susan, would you mind if I brought a good book to read, and relaxed near the pool in your lovely sanctuary? LOL

    I am in awe of your clematis, and hope over the next couple of years, that I will have some magnificent blooms like you have.

    Stunning tablescapes and centerpieces. Your guests must feel very welcome at your dinners. Your garden inspired meals are making me hungry.

    Thanks for hosting a wonderful garden party! I posted mine late last evening, and was too tired to comment until this morning :-)

  12. It all looks so pretty and the recipes all look and sound delicious and thanks for posting them.

  13. Hi Susan,
    Everything looks so inviting!Your clematis are amazing and your table with all that great looking food has me wanting to linger for awhile.Thank you for hosting this lovely party.


  14. Hi Susan,
    I am sorry I clicked enter when it had the wrong post on. Can you delete it for me and I will try again?

    Thank you,

  15. Susan, it's all gorgeous! You are the hostess with the mostess! The recipes are fantastic, I have to try the carbonara, it looks out of this world!

    Your gardens, your tables, your food, all outstanding! You really, really know how to party!

  16. Susan.. Thank you for hosting this Garden Party.. Everything looks fabulous and so delicious! I toured your foodgawker gallery the other day.. Unbelievable! You are so talented! My mind was rushing in circles I wanted to make it all! Great success on your Party.
    Have a great weekend.

  17. What a beautiful garden you have! So lucky to have so much space to grow herbs and the like. I'm putting that Zucchini carbonara on the menu this week. Looks like a fresh and easy summer dish. Found you on Tastespotting!

  18. I just added my link - this was so much fun and thank you for hosting this.

    Love your recipes and of course your garden!

  19. Beautiful Susan! Everything is so lovely ~ your artistry shines through in everything you touch.

    (I love your parents china, too!)

    :) ~m.

  20. Beautiful garden! So very colorful. Love the recipes. The Zucchini Carbonara looks delicious. Roasted sugar snaps are delightful!

  21. Love your theme. I don't know if I'll have time to join since it's getting late today, but I have enjoyed yours anyway. I joined your blog so I can see all your exciting life has to offer. Come see me and look around. I'd love to have you over!

  22. Thank you to each and every one of you for taking time to comment and to those of you who took the time to join in and post your own Garden Pary an especially big Thank You! I have enjoyed the posts of old friends and I've even made some new ones too :)

    I'm one happy garden gal :)


  23. Susan - Everything is so gorgeous! You have a special knack with decorating your table, garden and your food!

    I barely made it to the Party and apologize ahead of time by not showing pics of my blooms..but you know my schedule!! lol

    Thanks you so much for hosting this beautiful event!!

  24. Your garden is gorgeous! Just wow!! Definitely have to try the roasted sugar snap peas.

  25. Susan,
    I hope you won't mind that I joined your party a little late. I just found out about it over at A Haven for Vee. Your garden is just gorgeous! I also love your table setting. Thanks for sharing the recipes too. You are the hostess with the mostest, thank you for hosting this event. I can't wait to visit the other lovely gardens.

  26. Oh how pretty! I just loved everything from the flowers to the table settings to the veggies and the recipes. Thank you.

    (Wish that I had been able to join in, but life was busy and the flowers are not in very good shape after all the rain. I will be popping back to visit your participants, though!)

  27. FAB location for a party... the food looks delicious too!!! I will be right over!

  28. Susan, I'm so glad to have found your blog! I printed your Caprese Salad recipe and hope to make it soon. I have planted a pot of basil this year so I'm hoping to use it for this recipe. I'm going to sign up on your blog so I won't miss anything! Have a good day!

  29. Susan, you put on a wonderful party for your gourmet group and a wonderful party for us. Thank you! I always admire your style! Everything looks fabulous! The red flatware looks nice with that table setting. ;-) You really have a lovely place.


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