Cara Mangini, author of "The Vegetable Butcher" cookbook and Little Eater in Ohio, is all about fresh produce. Here, she shares a delicious summer recipe.
Grilled eggplant, walnut-basil pesto, and a thick balsamic reduction elevate—quite literally-—the venerable tomato and mozzarella pairing. The pretty and sturdy stacks make a meal, two on a plate with a delicate salad of baby greens. They travel well, too, and are impressive—a good choice to take to a backyard barbecue. You can make them ahead, and not fuss over them (although I might save the last drizzle of balsamic reduction until you reach your destination). Use a mix of colorful heirloom tomatoes, and the colors on the plate will wow you.
Place the vinegar in a small, heavy saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to low and gently simmer until the vinegar reduces to about one-quarter of its original volume, about 20 minutes. Check the consistency: It should be syrupy and coat the back of a spoon. Simmer slightly longer if needed.
Store the reduction in an airtight, heatproof container in the refrigerator; it will keep indefinitely. When you are ready to use it again, bring it to room temperature. Place the uncovered container in hot water until you can stir the reduction, adding drops of hot water as needed to thin it to your desired consistency.
Bring a small pot of water to a boil and place a bowl of ice water next to the stove. Drop the basil leaves into the boiling water, just for a few seconds until they wilt. Immediately remove them with a spider or slotted spoon and immerse them in the ice water. Lift the leaves and transfer them to a colander to drain. Gently squeeze out excess water and let them stand briefly between paper towels to absorb excess moisture.2.
Finely chop the garlic in a food processor. Add the basil leaves, nuts, the ¼ teaspoon of salt, and the ¹/₈ teaspoon of pepper and process until the ingredients won’t break down any further. With the motor running, pour ½ cup of olive oil through the top feed tube, and blend until the mixture is smooth and creamy. Scrape down the side of the bowl, add the parmesan, and blend briefly to incorporate it. Adjust the salt and pepper to taste. Add more oil—up to 1/4 cup—to thin the pesto if you wish.
The pesto will keep, in an airtight container in the refrigerator, for up to 3 days. You can also freeze it in ice cube trays or an airtight container for up to 6 months.
Preheat a grill to medium-high heat.2.
Place the eggplant rounds in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet, and brush both sides with olive oil.3.
When the grill is hot, use tongs to place the eggplant rounds on the grill. Cook, covered and turning once, until the eggplant flesh is tender through the center, but not completely soft and limp, 4 to 5 minutes per side. Transfer the eggplant back to the baking sheet to cool. Sprinkle lightly with fine sea salt.4.
Line another baking sheet or your work surface with parchment, and place 10 of the largest tomato slices on top in a single layer. Sprinkle each with a small pinch of coarse or flaked sea salt. Next, top each tomato slice with a grilled eggplant round that is equal in size (or slightly smaller). Spread a small spoonful of pesto over each eggplant round and top it with a slice of mozzarella. Place smaller tomato slices on top of the mozzarella. Sprinkle each tomato slice with a small pinch of coarse or flaked sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Drizzle with the Balsamic Reduction and top each stack with a basil leaf. Carefully transfer the stacks to a serving platter or individual plates and serve.