Caprese what!?

This sandwich is named after Capri. The island, not the pants.

Once again I decided to turn to random sites on the internet to provide all of my fun historical facts about food. It appears that caprese salad is only about 100 years old. There’s a lot of speculation about when or who invented it first, but most sources believe caprese originated in the southern Italian region of Campania. More specifically, caprese is named after the island of Capri, which is an island in the Campania region.

Caprese as a salad is thought to have been first mentioned on a menu at the Hotel Quisisana in the early 1920s. If you’d like to read a good breakdown on caprese sandwiches (including pizza and salads) check out the Sandwich Tribunal’s caprese post.

At its simplest, a caprese salad or sandwich includes three ingredients; basil, mozzarella and tomato. Most caprese salads will also have drizzles of olive oil, salt and possibly some balsamic vinegar. Green, white and red are the colors of Italy’s flag and with the basil, mozzarella and tomato, caprese mimics the colors of the flag much like another very simply adorned Italian dish, pizza margherita.

This isn’t my first salad to sandwich post and it likely won’t be the last. Let us walk through the steps I took for this sandwich.

The focaccia

You can add all sorts of herbs or green things to the top. This one had fresh sage leaves and Italian seasoning.

King Arthur’s Blitz Bread is a very easy bread recipe. In my experience, focaccia is some of the best bang for your effort bread you can make. In less than two hours you can have this baked up and ready to eat or slice for sandwiches.

Focaccia is some of the best bang for your effort bread you can make.

The recipe mentions using a mixer, but you really don’t need anything to make this properly other than a scale (here’s the scale I use – Amazon affiliate link). The dough never really comes together like typical bread dough (it stays more like a thick batter) so you should make sure to have some olive oil handy to spread on your fingers if you need to handle it very much.

If you’re a rookie at baking bread, I suggest you give focaccia a try. This recipe gives you a great result with very little way to mess things up unless you incorrectly measure your ingredients. Use a scale.

Once you get your focaccia mastered, you’re about half way to one of the best types of pizza you can make at home, Detroit Style!

Prior to baking, add olive oil and poke the top a little to create small indentions for the oil and spices to pool up.
Post bake. This one is just Italian seasoning and flaky salt.

Part of why I love focaccia is the crispy almost fried texture you get from the bread frying in the pan due to the oil underneath. I’m also a big fan of the salted and seasoned top.

Soft on the inside but crispy on the outside with crumb for a good sandwich or to serve on the side of some soup or pasta.

GREEN: the walnut basil pesto sauce

Instead of just straight basil leaves, I decided to make one of the world’s best sandwich condiments, pesto. Pesto can be and has been made from almost anything green, but typically it’s basil. It’s also usually made with pine nuts, but my wife had a lot of extra walnuts left over from cake or brownies and I used those.

This recipe is solid and once you try it, you’ll want to put it on all of your sandwiches.

10 minutes
Walnut basil pesto

Pesto is a great option for a fresh spread or sauce for your next sandwich. The key is adding the oil slowly to help create the proper emulsified consistency.

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WHITE: the mozzarella

I’ve never made cheese and there’s no time like the present (or past since I made this in the past). So I decided to make my mozzarella.

I first watched this youtube video and then I followed this mozzarella recipe from Making your own mozzarella relies on buying two special ingredients, citric acid and liquid rennet (both Amazon affiliate links). The two ingredients together cost me around 20 bucks. Then after that initial investment I was able to turn a gallon of milk into two fairly large mozzarella balls and one smaller one. Enough for a weeks worth of sandwiches at least. In glancing at my local grocery store website, the cheapest ball of fresh mozzarella costs about the same as the cheapest gallon of milk, so if you plan to keep making mozzarella it should eventually pay for itself.

The whole mozzarella making process took me around 45 minutes to do. It’s a fairly active recipe and it requires you to hit certain temperatures, so you’re definitely going to need a probe thermometer or just get really lucky with your guesses.

Now that I have both citric acid and liquid rennet, I will definitely be making mozzarella again. Would I suggest you try? Sure. If you have the time and want really fresh really tasty cheese, I say go for it. But if you don’t have excess in your schedule you can always just buy fresh mozzarella at the store and slice it yourself.

The recipe requires you to hit certain temps so you’ll need a thermometer.
Finished balls of fresh mozzarella.

RED: the tomatoes

If you read my BLT post you already know that I like to support my Farmer’s Market in the summer. Growing up, my Dad had a fairly large garden and grew a lot of tomatoes, but as an adult I like to let others do my gardening and weeding for me and then I pay them for it. If you don’t have a garden, I suggest you do the same and buy a bunch of tomatoes during the later part of summer when they’re at their ripest and tastiest.

A red and an orange tomato ready to sandwich.

Let us put the colors together

Look how simple this sandwich prep looks. Don’t forget to add a tiny bit of salt to your tomatoes to help accentuate their flavor.

All the pieces arranged and ready to sandwich.

A good caprese sandwich with a ripe tomato is a fantastic experience. To make a sandwich like mine fully from scratch you really only need a food processor or blender and a thermometer. But if you didn’t want to go through the trouble of making your own mozzarella and you have a good source for focaccia (or other types of bread) you could have one of these sandwiches ready to go in minutes.

The sandwiches

It tastes like eating an Italian flag. This is not true. I’ve actually never eaten a flag. Yet.
It’s an Italian flag with some orange color splashed on it!
Back to the tricolor flag sandwich.

And an extra

Here’s another similar-ish to a caprese sandwich.

Grilled chicken thigh with melted cheddar, salted tomato and pesto on focaccia. No mozzarella, but still very good.

Make more caprese sandwiches and focaccia

If you take nothing else from my caprese ramblings today, I’d love for you to try to make your own focaccia. If you do, share a picture with me on instagram or twitter. Check back next week when I turn a thing that’s not supposed to be a sandwich into a sandwich. Again.

Bacon, Love and Tomato

Lettuce talk about bacon and tomatoes.

Bacon, Lettuce and Tomato is one of the world’s best sandwiches. Even though there’s only 3 ingredients in the name, there’s actually two additional ingredients that need to be considered; the bread and the mayonnaise. During tomato season, it might actually vie for the best sandwich you can ever eat.

Does this mean the tomato is actually the most important ingredient in the success of this sandwich? Let’s make a bunch and find out.

The bread

For the bread in most of these BLTs I tried to keep things simple and went with King Arthur Baking’s Classic Sandwich Bread recipe. The only change or addition I made was adding some of their Harvest Grains Blend to the dough (I’m not an affiliate with King Arthur nor are they a sponsor, they just have good products and recipes). I added 1/3 cup of the harvest grains to the dough and then mixed/kneaded/formed it as usual. When the dough was almost ready for the oven, I beat an egg with a tablespoon of water, gave the whole proofed loaf a brush with egg wash and then sprinkled more harvest grains on the top and put it in the oven.

If you didn’t want to buy King Arthur’s Harvest Grains Blend, you could head to the bulk food section of your grocery store and get a few of these ingredients yourself. I think the sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, poppy seeds and the oat flakes are the most important part of the mix in my experience. Buy some and keep them on hand to mix up your breads.

Unsliced loaf of seaded bread

The bacon

For some of these BLTs I smoked some pork belly on my Weber Kettle. For others I bought bacon at the store.

Some of the store bought bacon I used and enjoyed.

I’ve grilled a lot but I’ve never smoked anything before, so this was sort of a learning experience for me. Baby’s first smoke, some might say. I started with this Michael Symon recipe for a pork belly dry brine. It’s fairly salty in the end product and some comments did mention that. Perhaps like some folks in the comments mention, I just didn’t wash off the salt/brine enough in the stage between brining and smoking. It was still really good, just a bit salty.

After seven days of brining pork belly in the fridge, I set up my Weber Kettle for smoking. This is a very clear video on how that process should work. It’s pretty much what I did step for step.

In the end, my first attempt at smoking worked ok. Not perfect. The temperature of my closed/smoking grill kept rising over 300 degrees when I wanted it to stay in the 250 range. I need to work on my technique for the next time. I don’t plan to do any long smokes on a kettle grill, but I do expect to do a couple of shorter ones before the summer ends. One day I’ll buy a smoker but currently I don’t really want (or according to my wife – NEED) a third grill on our roof deck.

Here’s a quick slideshow of how I set things up for smoking three small pieces of pork belly. The time span would have been longer with a larger piece, but this is what my market was selling the day I went through. My full smoke after the meat hit the grill grates was about an hour and a half. I used this fairly cheap “Veken” brand four probe thermometer (Amazon affiliate link) to keep an eye on the temps and it seemed to work fairly well.

Here’s some bacon that I sliced after I had smoked it for an hour and a half. At this stage it still needs to be fried in a pan or baked in the oven to complete the normal baconing process.

Post-smoke, pre-fry homemade bacon. These strips are a little longer than half of your normal grocery store bacon strip, but thicker and in most cases tastier.

Will I brine and smoke my own pork belly again? Yes. Will I ONLY eat my own pork belly instead of buying store bought bacon? Absolutely not.

Super thick cut bacon that you made yourself is great. But it’s also something different from thinly sliced bacon you get at the grocery store. They both have their place for me and I think most people would feel the same.

If you’re cooking grocery store bacon or bacon you smoked yourself, the easiest way to cook it is in the oven. BUT you have to remember that some bacon has more sweetness than others and might brown in the oven faster than others. This Michael Symon recipe that I used for example cooked/browned faster than the typical grocery store bacon I’ve cooked because of the sugar content.

So you just need to keep an eye on it in the oven if that’s how you’re cooking it.

The lettuce

No one wants to write or read about lettuce.

Just kidding. I have some opinions. The lettuce in a BLT definitely adds some fresh crunch and texture. I used mostly iceberg in these sandwiches because it maximizes crunch over flavor (none). One tip I do have is to toss or dress your lettuce with a small amount of olive oil and red wine vinegar to add a bit more excitement to the lettuce portion of your sandwich. Maybe save this dressed lettuce tip for non-tomato season to jazz things up.

The tomatoes

This week we hit the Farmer’s Market. I love the Farmer’s Market in summer, especially when the tomatoes are starting to show up (they should be there when you start reading this). For my sandwiches this week I bought a few heirlooms and put them to work.

Once sliced and placed on the sandwich, don’t forget to season those tomatoes with salt and pepper.

The mayo

Dukes and Homemade

BLT on homemade sourdough sandwich bread with Duke’s Mayo.

Ok, I’ll admit this isn’t much of a competition. I made roasted garlic mayo from scratch and while Duke’s is pretty much top tier mayonnaise (especially in the South Eastern US), it can’t beat mayonnaise that you made at home.

The mayo recipes I’ve shared are easy if you have a stick/immersion blender. I have a Cuisinart hand blender (Amazon affiliate link) that works well, but this should work with any model. With a blender and the right size mixing container, you can make mayo at home in less than five minutes. If you don’t have one, you’re going to get a bit of arm exercise whipping the ingredients into the proper mayonnaise consistency. I’ve done it both ways, but the blender how I made this batch.

Here’s my recipe for roasted garlic mayonnaise (some would say aioli if they were fancy). If you’re not a fan of roasted garlic, you can omit that and just make plain (but still better than store bought) mayonnaise.

If you do like roasted garlic, you really should try this recipe.

10 minutes
Roasted garlic mayo

You like sandwiches. Sandwiches like you. You need this roasted garlic mayo to enhance your love with sandwiches.

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A step-by-step gif of the mayo making process
All the sandwiching ingredients in one spot.

Some finished BLTs.

Bread I made, bacon I made, roasted garlic mayonnaise I made. This is better than you can imagine.
The BLAT: Bacon, Lettuce, Avocado and Tomato. Bread here is toaster oven toasted, not griddled. This was store bought bacon.

Final BLT thoughts

Always toast your BLT bread. I tried two toasting techniques and I definitely prefer griddling the bread in a pan vs toasting it in a toaster oven. Both options are good and they both provide an entirely different experience.

I know I said at the beginning of this post that tomato could be the most important ingredient in a BLT and I still think that’s mostly correct. I think it’s two ingredients together that can make or break the BLT experience. For me it’s the combination of a juicy tomato and the mayonnaise that create what is almost a special sandwich sauce. Obviously bacon is important, but for me it’s not nearly as important as the combination of a ripe tomato and the mayonnaise.

Last sandwich

Homemade bacon, lettuce and heirloom tomato on griddled seaded loaf bread.

Make more BLTs. And check back next week when I most likely get cheesy again.