As my friend and I were walking out of the airport after our weekend in Vegas she inhaled deeply and said, “Ahhh, it smells like Iowa!” I followed suit, and heartily agreed, “HOME!”
After a few days of walking through smoky casinos (seriously I forget how toxic that smell is!) there was nothing more pleasant than the smell of fresh, clean, Midwestern air. I’m sure you folks in the mountains think your air is the best – same for you living near the beach. Nobody nails it quite like home, eh?
Smell has been the name of the game all week. The flowering trees around town are in full bloom – their sweet scent hits you before you see ’em – and I even passed by a row of pale-purple lilacs, my faaaaavorite fragrant spring flower, on a walk yesterday. This particular yard that I walked past was so full of lilac bushes that I was tempted to saw one off with the keys in my pocket and take it home with me. Then I remembered the cops.
Anyway, all these aromatic spring trees and flowers mean one important thing – summer’s on it’s way! And if summer is on it’s way, that means Caprese season is also nearly here. If there’s one thing I could eat every single day in the summertime and never get sick of, it’s Caprese Salads. Fat slices of fresh mozzarella cheese layered with even thicker slices of beefsteak tomatoes and fresh basil leaves, drizzled with a syrupy balsamic reduction are the stuff summertime dreams are made of.
I’m channeling my favorite salad and giving it a fun and satisfying twist in Caprese Pesto Potato Skins!
Crisp, roasted red potato skins are slathered with basil-packed pesto then filled to the brim with fresh mozzarella pearls, grape tomatoes, and chopped basil before being drizzled with balsamic glaze.
Talk about smell! Merely opening a package of fresh basil is enough to send me into a summertime tizzy. Is there anything more reminiscent of those hot and steamy months than the scent of basil?
By the way, I am one of those insane people that hates the AC. There’s nothing worse than being cold indoors. It’s unnatural. Unless of course I’m blow-drying my hair or putting on makeup. Then it needs to be highly frigid in my bathroom. Other than that? Dislike! Bring on the steam!
Anyway, these potato skins? Totally fresh and poppable, and a fun way to satisfy your Caprese cravings. Make a tray for dinner or an appetizer but be warned – once you pop, it’s hard to stop!
Start by roasting 12 small red potatoes that are all roughly the same size – about 3-1/2lbs worth. This will get you 24 potato skins, which should feed 4-6 people depending on if you’re eating them for dinner or an appetizer. Pierce the potatoes a few times with a fork then rub the outsides with a small amount of extra virgin olive oil. Place them onto 2 foil-lined baking sheets then pop into the oven for 45 minutes to an hour, or until a skewer poked into the side of the potato slides in easily.
Set the potatoes aside until they’re cool enough to handle then slice in half and scoop out the flesh, leaving 1/4″ around the outsides to the skin doesn’t collapse. Potato skins = prepped!
Meanwhile bring 1 cup balsamic vinegar to a boil then reduce the heat and let simmer until the vinegar has thickened and coats a spoon, about 20 minutes, then set it aside to cool. The vinegar will thicken as it cools so don’t let it reduce down too much.
Note: Trader Joe’s sells pre-made balsamic drizzle, and I know I’ve seen a few other brands at Whole Foods, and while decadently delicious it does contain sulfites. Just FYI in case you are sensitive/concerned about that!
Next, turn your attention back to the spuds. After scooping the potato out of the skins, mist or brush the cut side with extra virgin olive oil then season generously with salt and pepper. Then, fill ‘er up with a heaping 1/2 teaspoon pesto.
I like making homemade pesto in the summer when my herb garden is overflowing (here’s my recipe) but in the off season I see no harm in buying pre-made. Especially when the ingredient list includes all the items I’d add anyway.
Turn the oven up to 450 degrees then bake the pesto-filled skins for 7-10 minutes, or until the potatoes are golden brown. I like baking the skins with just the pesto in them as it really intensifies the flavor. YUM!
Next fill the skins up with the rest of the Caprese-inspired ingredients – 1 pint sliced grape or cherry tomatoes (I can’t wait to plant a few sweet 100 cherry tomato plants this year!) and 8oz mozzarella pearls.
Mozzarella pearls are exactly what they sound like – tiny balls of fresh mozzarella that look like pearls. Love ’em. They’re
too so easy to pop! If you can’t find mozzarella pearls just buy an 8oz ball of fresh mozzarella and chop it up.
Next, pop the potato skins under the broiler until the cheese has melted, being careful not to burn the skins.
After they come out of the oven, gooey and warm, drizzle the tops with the reduced balsamic vinegar and a sprinkle of freshly chopped basil, which really drives the mouthwatering Caprese flavors home.
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Caprese Pesto Potato Skins
Caprese Pesto Potato Skins are a delicious and fun take on the classic combo of tomato, mozzarella, and basil!
- 12 small red potatoes about the same size (about 3-1/2lbs,) scrubbed and dried
- extra virgin olive oil
- salt and pepper
- 1 cup balsamic vinegar
- 1/2 cup prepared pesto
- 8oz mozzarella pearls (or an 8oz ball fresh mozzarella, chopped)
- 1 pint cherry or grape tomatoes, cut in half
- 10-12 fresh basil leaves, chopped
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Pierce potatoes two or three times with a fork then rub with a small amount of extra virgin olive oil and place onto 2 foil-lined baking sheets. Bake for 45 minutes to an hour or until a knife or skewer inserts easily into the center, then set aside until cool enough to handle. Alternatively, cook pierced potatoes in the microwave for 6-10 minutes (depending on size) flipping halfway through.
- Meanwhile, pour balsamic vinegar into a small saucepan then bring to a boil. Turn heat down to medium then simmer and reduce until vinegar is thick enough to coat a spoon, about 20 minutes. Set aside to cool - vinegar will continue to thicken while cooling.
- After potatoes are cool enough to handle increase oven temperature to 450 degrees then slice potatoes in half lengthwise and scoop out flesh leaving 1/4" along the insides. Save flesh for another use. Mist or brush flesh side with extra virgin olive oil then season generously with salt and pepper. Scoop a heaping 1/2 teaspoon pesto into each potato skin then spread slightly with the back of the spoon. Bake for 5-7 minutes or until potatoes are golden brown.
- Fill each potato skin with a couple mozzarella pearls and halved tomatoes then broil until cheese is melted - watch carefully so potato skins don't burn. Sprinkle with chopped basil then drizzle with balsamic glaze and serve.
This recipe is courtesy of Iowa Girl Eats, http://iowagirleats.com.
In case you’re Caprese-crazy too, here’s a few of my favorite Caprese-inspired recipes >> to enjoy all spring and summer long. Enjoy!