My two favorite words: LET’S EAT!
A long rectangular wooden board rests on my kitchen island. It looks like it’s floating on a white ocean with the uneven gray striations of marble waves surrounding my creation. Summer cherry red tomatoes drizzled with olive oil and garlic cloves and dusted with sea salt were roasted until the tomatoes burst at the edges. Placed as if floating in the center of the board, they are surrounded by my crisp artisan bread crostini toasts smothered with honey goat cheese. An offset small white ramekin holds sliced mushrooms lightly sauteed in ghee. Vibrant green basil leaves are tucked delicately yet with intention alongside the corners of the board—simplicity and deliciousness — ready in 20 minutes.
“Wow Sherri,” my girlfriend said, “this is incredible.” She was playing with a piece of fusilli that had fallen from the box when I poured it into the water. She was smiling so broad that she looked like a 5-year-old holding steady after the training wheels had just come off. She wore a blue shirt that made her eyes look the color of the water along the Santorini coastline. She went on to say….“I never make anything like this.”
I remember cracking up to myself after hearing that. While I know the board looks ready to be on an Instagram post, I’m also very aware that about an hour ago, when I realized I had friends stopping for a drink and a quick visit, I hadn't even had a plan. What I did have was my newly developed attitude toward entertaining. I’ve heard my friends get completely freaked out when they know they have company coming with two weeks to prepare. The anxiety starts early. Here’s what is happening in their minds. What should I serve? I want to make an impression. How can I make something that tastes and looks like Martha Stewart helped me? I don’t have time. Hedi, Allison, and Jodi’s creations are perfect - I just can’t! But if I can, you can too.
I decided to change my attitude, care more about the experience and joy of getting together with others, and let go of the idea of comparison and perfection. Easier said than done, most would agree. But I decided not to let fear of judgment stand in my way anymore.
When I teach my cooking classes, I first review the Mediterranean diet pyramid. Then, after explaining the benefits of whole foods, grains, plant-forward eating, and limited meat and fish, I get excited to share my favorite part. “Ok, everyone, listen up. For me, this is the most important takeaway,” and my students can see my enormous smile and my hands gesturing as if somehow it helps to put power into my words, “Eat meals with others. Have company. Share your food, have a conversation, and make a toast to each other.” At the end of our lives, no one wants to look back and say, boy, I'm so glad I didn't have people over because I wasn't the greatest cook, and I didn't know how to make everything look picture worthy.
I know that I will be able to look back with the fondest memories of celebrations in my home. So, please enjoy this recipe for a delicious summer roasted eggplant Caprese.
3 Zucchini (Medium; cut lengthwise)
5 Cocktail Tomatoes (Sliced 1/2 inch thick)
8 ozs Fresh Mozzarella Cheese (Pre- sliced or slice 1/2″ thick)
1/4 tsp Garlic Salt
1 Handful Fresh Basil Leaves (Julienned)
2 tbsp Olive Oil (more or less when drizzled)
Salt And Fresh Ground Black Pepper
2 tbsp Balsamic Vinegar (to drizzle)
Drizzle and rub zucchini halves with olive oil. Season lightly with salt and fresh ground black pepper.
Preheat the grill or grill pan on the stove to medium-high and grill the zucchini covered for 3-5 minutes per side or just until knife tender.
Drizzle with balsamic vinegar!
Remove the grilled zucchini to a serving platter cut side up. Season evenly with garlic salt. Top each half with mozzarella cheese and sliced tomatoes in an overlapping pattern. Sprinkle with basil and drizzle with olive oil. Season with additional salt and fresh ground black pepper as needed.
Serve immediately or at room temperature. It also tastes good chilled the next day. Serves 6-8 as a side.
Cocktail tomatoes and pre-sliced mozzarella cheese are a perfect size here. You can use any other sort of tomatoes but may have to cut them down to fit. Same with pre-sliced mozzarella – they are the perfect little circles for the zucchini here.
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