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Rachel's Recipes: Seasonal tomatoes top mouth-watering appetizer

By: Rachel Chaddock, Special to the Telegraph
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My niece recently asked me what my favorite meal is. When you’re 9, this is an easy question to answer — and the answer tends to be something like “pizza” or “hamburgers.” I had to think about this for a while — if you are a lover of food, it approaches an impossibility to narrow it down to just one. Do you go with sweet or savory? Something labor-intensive and complicated or a dish that just showcases truly stellar ingredients? My birthday falls on the first day of summer, which is around the time when Lily asked me the question, and I get to choose whatever I like for my birthday dinner. Remembering my choice made answering the question easy. At least at this moment, mozarrella loaf with tomatoes is my favorite. How can you go wrong, with the warm, cheesy goodness of the bread and the sweet, sharp cool of the tomatoes? It’s perfect for my birthday, since it takes advantage of tomatoes in season (which is imperative in the recipe, so there’s no point in making this in the dead of winter), and is simple, easy-to-make and absolutely delicious. It is pretty enough to impress your guests as well. I first had something similar to this years ago at a restaurant in Bennington, Vermont, and when I came home I raved about it to my family and friends until I sat down and recreated it. My version is a far cry from the original. A couple notes on the ingredients — you can use fresh or regular mozzarella, depending on what you have on hand, but bear in mind that the fresh has a milder flavor and melts better. And please don’t omit the anchovy flavoring. That’s really all it is — there’s nothing that screams “fishy” in the recipe, but the anchovy adds a savory saltiness that works beautifully in the dish. If you buy the anchovies in the jar, they will keep in the refrigerator for an incredibly long time, and using them as a flavoring will add wonders to any number of pasta dishes. Most people will not be able to tell that they’re there in the first place. Anchovies have a terrible reputation, and I’ve really come to enjoy them. I’m not quite at the stage where I’d order them on my pizza, but I would certainly try a slice if someone else did. This will serve eight sensibly, four realistically, and after that, I’m not telling. It was my birthday, after all. Rachel Chaddock can be reached by e-mail at rachels.recipes@yahoo.com. She welcomes reader questions and requests. You can also follow her on Twitter. * * * Mozarrella loaf with tomatoes 1 loaf sweet French bread 1 large ball mozzarella cheese 1/2 cup unsalted butter 1 tablespoon oil from tin of anchovies 1 anchovy, diced fine 1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves For tomato topping: 3 cups tomatoes, seeded and chopped 2 tablespoons fresh basil, chopped 1 teaspoon fresh thyme 2 tablespoons olive oil 1 tablespoon white balsamic vinegar 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar Salt and pepper to taste Combine all the ingredients for the tomato topping in a bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside to let the flavors blend (at least one hour). Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil. Slice the loaf of bread into 1” thick slices. Slice the ball of mozzarella into enough slices so that there is a piece of mozzarella between every two pieces of bread. Reassemble the bread loaf on the baking sheet with the cheese slices between the bread slices, with the heels of the bread on each end. Hold the bread together by inserting wooden skewers on either end. Melt the butter together with the anchovy oil and the diced anchovy. Add in the thyme and stir together. Brush the butter mixture over the bread and cheese loaf, making sure to get between the bread slices. Bake the butter-soaked cheese-filled bread loaf for 10-15 minutes, until the bread turns golden and the cheese has melted. Brush the loaf with the remaining butter mixture about halfway through the baking cycle. To serve, pull off a piece of the bread and top with a generous spoonful of the tomato mixture.