It’s that time of year, and the tomatoes have started popping up in our CSA share. I always look forward to these additions to our weekly boxes. For most of the year I’m not much of a tomato fan, mainly due to the fact that most supermarket tomatoes (those wrongly named vine-ripened included) are tasteless and have the texture of cardboard and water. But come the end of July and the beginning of August that all changes as local, truly vine ripened tomatoes start showing up at the farmer’s markets, roadside stands, and, especially in our CSA boxes.

The Caprese salad, that mixture of fresh tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, and fresh basil, has become a cliche in recent years, but it comes by that title honestly. Sure the combination seems rather tired nowadays, but let’s face it, it’s popular because it works. Those items seem made for each other. Now slap those ingredients between 2 slices of bread, grill it off, and you have the ultimate in summertime grilled cheeses.

I’m usually happy with that, but today I was in the mood to add another dimension. I often like to drizzle my Caprese salads with balsamic syrup, a mixture of balsamic vinegar and sugar reduced to a syrup consistency, but that wasn’t taking it far enough for me today. So I starting thinking what else works with those components and I came up with strawberries. Now, at first this might sound rather odd, but think about it a bit. Strawberries drizzled with balsamic has become a classic light dessert, and basil and strawberries go together well, so now it was just a matter of how to add them to the mix. Slicing and placing them on the sandwich just didn’t seem right so I decided to make a quick balsamic strawberry jelly. This worked perfectly, adding a bit of sweetness and a hint of acidity to the sandwich and perfuming it with the most subtle of strawberry aromas. It also left me with a good bit of leftover jelly to experiment with further.

Quick Balsamic Strawberry Jelly
makes 3/4 cup

3/4 cup balsamic vinegar
3/4 cup strawberry jelly, preferably homemade (I used the freezer jam my wife made earlier this summer)

Combine both ingredients in a nonreactive sauce pan and cook until reduced by 1/2. Stir on a regular basis as this mixture has a tendency to stick and burn. Once reduced remove from heat and chill until it sets up. Will keep for 2-3 months in the fridge.

Caprese Panini
makes 1 sandwich

1 small tomato, as fresh and as ripe as possible
fresh basil leaves
fresh mozzarella, sliced 1/4″ thick
ciabatta bread or any crusty rustic white loaf, cut to this size you want
about 1 tablespoon of the Balsamic Strawberry Jelly

Pre heat a panini press. If you don’t have a panini press heat a skillet or griddle over medium heat. Core and slice the tomato in 1/4″ slices. Slice open the ciabatta and spread both cut sides with the jelly. On the bottom half layer the tomato, fresh mozzarella, and fresh basil leaves. Cover with the top slice of ciabatta and grill on the panini press until heated through and the cheese is just starting to melt. This sandwich is best if the cheese and tomato are not overly heated. You just want them heated through with the cheese just on the verge of melting into a stringy mess. If using a skillet press the sandwich, with a spatula, while the sandwich is cooking, flipping it halfway through the cooking process (after approximately 4-5 minutes).