Tomato dish gets loads of flavor from little work

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Hello once again, my friends. As I sit here typing, cooking seems to be the last thing on my mind. Having surgery on one’s elbow tends to make picking up pots and pans seem like a thing of the past. Oh well, we all have to eat, so sometimes, we have to put our noses to the grindstone and make things happen.

Not only is it daunting after surgery to even think about preparing a meal, the summer temperatures tend to do the same. After all, who wants to sit in a hot kitchen running the air conditioner bills up? The thing is, there are lots of foods we can prepare that require only a minimum amount of cooking but that taste like we spent hours making them.

Those of you who have been to one of my classes or have my book know that I speak about that often. How can we get the most flavors from the amount of time we spend cooking? If we spend 30 minutes of prep time and cooking, we want to get 30 minutes worth of result from that. There have been many times when I’ve spent hours in the kitchen only to be disappointed by the results of all the hard work. In short, I didn’t get out what I invested. This makes cooking like playing the stock market. This being the case, hopefully we learn from those experiences and use them to our advantage.

One way we can do that is to use fresh ingredients whenever possible. Fresh always tastes best — whether in fruits, vegetables or even meats. The longer things sit, the more they tend to lose flavors, as well as nutrients. The onus is on us to find and use things when they are at their peak.

The recipe I’m going to share today is a perfect example of all of these things. It takes a minimal amount of time to prepare and it uses ingredients that are just about to be fresh and ready at every roadside market and in the garden. In addition to being simple, this recipe includes one of the things I talk a lot about, which is using fresh herbs to add flavors. Herbs are super easy to grow, do well in pots and can even be purchased at local grocery stores in the vegetable section. They add a dramatic flair to recipes with their colors and flavors. Incorporating them into your cooking will add freshness to dishes that you never knew was there and using them with simple ingredients such as fresh tomatoes will make your kitchen a much more delicious place to be.

Tomatoes are more versatile then we tend to give them credit for being. I love a good BLT as much as the next person, but tomatoes are much more than that. They dress up salads, make a great side dish when chopped up and added to quinoa or cous cous along with a little olive oil and lemon juice and they are a great stand alone side dish when covered with mozzarella cheese and broiled for a few minutes. This recipe for tomato stacks can be used with almost any variety of tomato. If you only have small ones, cut the mozzarella into smaller pieces and make little stacks. There are now lots of colorful varieties of heirloom tomatoes that make for a beautiful presentation when stacked and make a great easy appetizer that is sure to wow guests with the color and flavor. Also, if you really want to save time you can buy balsamic reduction and not reduce the vinegar yourself. It’s really a simple process, however, when time is of the essence the extra money is worth its weight in gold.

I hope you enjoy this recipe and as always, eat well my friends.

Tomato Insalata with Balsamic Reduction

5 medium tomatoes, sliced and cores removed

6 ounces on fresh mozzarella, sliced into ¼-inch slices

20 fresh basil leaves

¾ cup balsamic reduction (see recipe)

Salt and pepper to taste

 Slice a thin piece off the bottom of the tomatoes so they sit flat. Layer the tomatoes, cheese and basil leaves, finishing with a tomato slice on top. Drizzle with the Balsamic Reduction and serve immediately.

Balsamic Reduction

1-1/2 cups of good quality balsamic vinegar

 Heat a skillet over medium heat. Add the balsamic vinegar and stir constantly. Simmer until vinegar has reduced by half and has thickened slightly.


Shawn Keeton is author of the cookbook, “Keeton in the Kitchen, A Celebration of Family, Friends and Food.” He resides in Carrollton, Ky.