A caprese salad is a perfect example of cooking with color; more specifically, cooking with the colors of the Italian flag in the form of tomatoes, basil and fresh mozzarella. Italians have other versions of the “tricolore” salad, like Mozza’s made with arugula, frisee, endive, and anchovy vinaigrette. That recipe is in heavy rotation at my house.
This idea for this summer caprese came to me in a daydream and just jumps off the plate with vivid hues and bright flavors. Ripe nectarines mirror the orange tomatoes and the pink pickled onions. Fregola tossed in a bold arugula pesto adds a splash of green and plenty of spice. Fregola is a tiny Sardinian pasta similar to Israeli couscous and lends a toothsome bite to this delectable dish of fresh fruit and creamy cheese. I love the idea of using a whole grain or a small pasta as a garnish.
Golden Caprese with Nectarines, Pickled Onions & Green Fregola
for the pickled onions
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/2 cup warm water
1 tsp salt
1 1/2 tblsp sugar
coarse black pepper
1/2 red onion, sliced thinly in half moons
for the arugula pesto
1 small garlic clove, chopped
1 big handful of baby arugula
20 leaves of fresh basil
zest and juice of 1 lemon
red pepper flakes, to taste
salt and fresh cracked pepper
2 tblsp pine nuts, toasted in a dry skillet until golden (about 5 minutes)
2 tblsp finely grated Parmesan
5 tblsp extra-virgin olive oil
for the salad
2 ripe but firm nectarines, pitted and sliced in wedges
2 medium orange or yellow tomatoes, sliced in wedges
3 oz fresh mozzarella, sliced in rounds
a few arugula leaves
1/3 cup of Fregola, cooked to al dente and cooled
2 tblsp pine nuts, toasted in a dry skillet until golden
1. Make the quick-pickled onions. In a mason jar or glass bowl, whisk together the vinegar, warm water, salt, pepper and sugar until the sugar dissolves. Add the sliced onion and make sure all the slices are submerged in the liquid. Place in the fridge while you make the salad (let sit for at least 30 minutes). You will have plenty left over and they make a great garnish for grilled meats or chicken.
2. Make the pesto. In the bowl of a food processor, combine the garlic, arugula, basil, zest and lemon juice, red pepper flakes and salt and pepper to taste. Pulse 5 to 10 times to combine. Add the Parmesan and olive oil and puree to your desired thickness. Taste for seasoning.
3. Assemble the salads. Toss the fregola and the remaining pine nuts with a few tablespoons of the pesto. On each plate, lay out slices of mozzarella, nectarine and tomato. Scatter the fregola around the plates. Top with arugula leaves, some pickled onions, more pesto if desired, and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.